Friday, March 16th, 2012

Writing Prompt: Check Your Morgue or Trunked Files

Virginia Pilot Ledger Newspaper MorgueMy background is journalism, so naturally I have my own morgue.

The “morgue” in newspaper parlance are the file cabinets holding all the research materials, notes and photos that went into producing a news story. All the pieces are usually filed together in a single folder by year or story. Sometimes the photos have their own morgue. Depends on the newspaper.

Pretty inefficient, really. While a lot of those records are filed electronically now, most of it still goes down the same way because who has the time to turn scribbled notes and library research into electronic documents when you’ve got to write the next news story?

And really, that stuff almost never gets looked at again unless it’s a really big story that has repercussions years later and needs to be referenced again. Or, the newspaper runs one of those “Five years ago, Ten years ago, etc. columns.

Writers tend to have ideas folders (stuff where they put ideas they’ve had, but aren’t ready to be written yet, snippets of overhead conversations, inspiring photos, etc.) and “trunked” files: a place for those stories that were written, but never got sold for whatever reason.

I have another file I keep, my “Culled from ‘XX Manuscript'” file: this is the place where I copy and paste the stuff edited out of my manuscripts. It contains idle scenes, verbose paragraphs, misplaced character thoughts in long and short phrases.

It’s a file that makes me feel better when I’m editing: I can take all that “hard work” which should never see the light of day, and keep a record of having written it. I tell myself I’ll go back there one day and make use of it.

I’ve never, ever done so (unlike my morgue or ideas folders…)

But this past week while I was doing some major edits, I realized that that file contains a lot of good stuff even if it wasn’t polished enough — or well thought out enough — to use in the current manuscript.

It’s plenty good for inspiring ideas when you need a kick.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Raid your ideas folder or junked stories for a snippet, phrase, paragraph, description, etc. to get your juices flowing: we’re not looking for an old idea to use here, we’re reading until you find a phrase that sparks a new idea. Find it and write.
     
  • Kill two birds with one stone: edit something that needs to be polished. Take all those words and phrases you cut away and save them into another file. Likely, they won’t be ‘sparkers’ this early: they’re too fresh in your mind. Set them aside for a few weeks and then revisit. In the meantime: you’ve polished up some writing. Send it out!
     
  • If you don’t have ideas folders, trunked files, or writing that needs some editing (Welcome, beginner!) pick a book off your shelf — something you haven’t read in a long time, or something you’ve never read — and open it to a random page. Read until an idea is sparked.
     
  • If none of these ideas appeal, here area a few very short phrases from my latest edits. Feel free to use them for your own stories:
     
    • “I’m damn tired of not getting my money’s worth.”
       
    • So, what did he want me to do about this?
       
    • It didn’t matter why the old man told him the story: he didn’t want to hear it.
       
    • …stiff and away from the window…
       
    • Chasing women was something he’d never had to do
       
    • Convinced he could do no more for the creature than make her comfortable, he…
       
    • The priestesses had long controlled the northern parts of the continent because of…
       

Good luck!

 
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Photo Credit: A story about the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch newspaper morgue.

2 comments to Writing Prompt: Check Your Morgue or Trunked Files

  • LOL – not a beginner…hard drive crashed a few years ago and took everything with it! Oh, how I miss some of those old story/ms. files sometimes, even if just to have them for nostaligia’s sake!

    I have NEVER EVER thought to save my “cutting room floor” bits and I can’t tell you how many times I WISHED I had some of the stuff I had cut. What a great idea, to paste them into a new file, rather than just hitting the delete key. Thank you!

    • Hi Terri!

      Sympathies on the hard drive crash! Years later, it still hurts, I know!

      I *despise* losing work….even old work. I lost a manuscript late last year and had to re-write from scratch. Total bummer. I have to say though: I’ve never re-used my ‘cutting room floor’ stuff…but I do like having it available “just in case.” And as I’ve just learned: good story sparkers! Reading it out of context is lending it new meaning in my mind. I never thought of using it as such until now.

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