Déjà vu, All Over Again
By Jeff Salter
I’m told this was my topic suggestion, but – like many other topics which apparently sprung from my weary brain – I have no idea what I was thinking about when I proposed it. It’s a two-parter: (1) have we written something that seems so familiar, we must have already used it in another story, and (2) what do we do when we establish that it has been used before?
I confess that when I re-read some of my older published stories, I’ll come across expressions (dialog) or descriptions (appearance) that I’ve used in later stories. One example is the word “keester” — which probably shows up in several different stories, from the mouths of various characters… simply because I think it’s a cool word and I use it often myself. Sue me.
It’s certainly possible that if some diligent literary professor were to carefully examine three of my novels, side-by-side, that she/he could find words, expressions, descriptions, etc., that would be common to each. That’s regrettable, I suppose, but hardly surprising. After all, we only have 26 letters to deal with and we’re writing novels of anywhere from 55k to 110k words. I reckon you’re gonna see a few of them over and over again… and perhaps even in the same order.
But, as I mulled over this topic this week – for the first time since I’d initially suggested it (over a year ago, or longer) – I got to thinking of a slightly different angle. Something happens to me, and much more often than I’d wish, is that I’ll remember I need to write such-and-such scene in a story. Let’s say it’s character John Doe reflecting on the battle action at Graignes. So I’ll refresh my memory about the facts of that actual battle, then I’ll decide how much detail (or which aspects) I wish to have John Doe verbalize in my fiction… and I’ll find a logical spot in the story to plug that in.
Oops… after I finish composing that bit about the Graignes battle, I’ll read down another page or two and see that I already wrote it… presumably in a previous draft (or possibly even a day or two earlier on THIS draft). And now I have to compare the two iterations, pick the better of the two, or – as I often do – take the best components of each and meld them into one account. And, yes, they will usually be quite different in what they reveal and how it’s told.
This also happens to me when I’m not able to get to work on Story XYZ – because of other deadlines or external obligations – but I’ll take a few minutes to jot down several pages of notes to use in that story… whenever I may next have an opportunity to open the file itself. Oops… when I finally get back to that story – which could be months (or even years later) – those hand-written notes often represent what has since become hardly more than a tangent to how the story has evolved in my head. Or, as in a recent example with my current WIP, it involved the wrong character at the wrong time in the story. So it was all basically useless — eight pages of hand-written notes…wasted!
As I said, I don’t recall what was on my noggin when I initially proposed the topic. This is what’s on my brain at this point in time. The mind can, at times, be a very strange terrain.
What about you? Have you ever written a scene you forgot about… and ended up writing it AGAIN?
[JLS # 441]