discussions writing & publishing

Author Recycling

I’m coming to the end of a series, thinking about some new projects, and casting my mind back to unpublished (and never will be published) works.

I was mulling over connections between my books to make sure I don’t repeat myself, when a common theme hit me. Well, not so much a theme, but it was something I do subconsciously: that is to write characters that hide something behind another secret or character trait.

For example, one idea I had in my current series was to hide the character Brynd’s homosexuality behind something else – in his case, it was him being an albino. I wanted readers to focus on his ultra-pale skin, so I could then drop the h-bomb that was hiding in plain view.

It was something I’d actually resuscitated from a never-to-be-published work, where in that case there was the initial secret of the character having wings (totally New Weird), and that character was hiding another secret behind those wings. It only struck me as interesting because, designing a post-Red Sun project, I realised yet again I was trying to apply the same effect (I won’t say what this time). I also spotted that some of my character ideas share concerns or vaguely related issues.

Are some ideas unescapable – because, ultimately, a writer is trapped within the limits of his or her own imagination or subconscious? It really is the sort if thing you only notice after a few books are under your belt, or becomes quite noticeable if you’re looking to develop something new. How many other authors recycle their ideas? Probably quite a few.

I know some writers rehash the same book over and over again. And let’s face it, the first few of David Gemmell’s Drenai books don’t exactly stray from a template (I made the mistake of reading a few of them in one block). But I’m talking more in terms of broader themes, issues that leak into work after work. Those little niggles that sneak in, or become obsessions. I can only think of a couple or writers off the top of my head: Don DeLillo was fascinated by mass media and crowds; Hemingway was interested in emasculation, death, women etc. Perhaps it’s what defines an author, this crystallisation of ideas over a lifetime.

Anyway, just another musing really. I wasn’t actually going anywhere with this blog post – another common theme…

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

11 replies on “Author Recycling”

Maybe things stay with you until you clarify it (the issue) for yourself. Maybe once you are fully able to articulate something, you can let it go and find the next thing to obsess over. 😉 Just a thought.

Hi Mark – a bit of both, and they’re not mutually exclusive of course. Probably, in fact, the same thing. And certainly recycling is not a bad thing in this particular case (or indeed any case). What’s the difference between reuse and refining of an idea?

DD – I do like that idea. I also like the general concept that issues niggle authors. It reinforces that this game is an art form after all!

Hmm…interesting. I think that maybe this is something that is more common amongst creative types than one might think.

Some of the music composers I follow will sometimes recycle musical motifs or themes in their projects; a theme in one movie will sound similar to, if not the same as, another from a totally different movie. This happened with one of James Horner’s themes for Casper, a lullaby; it was also used in The Spiderwick Chronicles.

I think this also happens with TV shows. I don’t know if you’ve seen/heard of a show called Alias and also Fringe, but J.J. Abrams had these things called the Rambaldi Artifacts in Alias and the Doomsday Machine in Fringe; both are similar in that certain characters were prophesized in drawings to have a connection to these objects which, when brought together, would bring about some kind of apocalyptic event. I strongly suspect that Abrams might have had the Rambaldi Artifacts in mind when he fashioned the Doomsday Machine for Fringe, but that’s just speculation.

In any case, it’s clear he likes toying with the idea of there being a Doomsday.

I’m still working on my first novel, but looking back through my old idea journals I have also noticed a pattern of old ideas being recycled. They seem to have…reincarnated themselves throughout multiple drafts, heh, expressing themselves in newer forms. Some ideas fell away entirely, though many seemed to have fought for inclusion in the final cut. I’m not even sure if this is something the writer can entirely control. It’s…strange.

Like you said, “What’s the difference between reuse and refining of an idea?” I just see it as “reimagination.” Though, maybe in some cases it could be that people have fetishes for certain ideas or themes that just keep haunting them and, perhaps, have deeper psychological underpinnings: fears that haven’t been dealt with, longings that have yet to be satisfied, or some odd combination of both–constantly being filtered through the mind in attempt to bring about clarification, as D.D. said. Who knows?

Tiyana – thanks for the comment. And yes, that’s very true about other arts such as music. Very much noticeable in composers, and even music bands (those who write their own music, at least).

Jared – yup, the same one. Desert-based, and with a winged dude. Totally New Weird.

I know not to be fooled by the initial weirdness of your characters from now on! I guess the cop-out solution is to subvert your idea crutches eg the next time you have a character with wings it turns out it’s the wings that are the underlying problem 🙂

“Anyway, just another musing really. I wasn’t actually going anywhere with this blog post – another common theme…”

Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man…

If you write extremely dull people the question will be whether readers agreee. There’s always a chance they’ll find some hidden characterisation/meaning in your dull people 🙂

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