A to Z Challenge 2013

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dead Stories

No Gupster, this isn't a post about the undead (although maybe I'll have to write one in your honor sometime). This is a post regarding a phenomena we all run into while writing - the act of killing a story, putting it down, hiding it under the bed, or using it for target practice to release our frustrations. I was thinking about this idea recently and I can sympathize with writers who feel the need to just get away from a story. For whatever reason, the story just isn't any good. But is killing the story really the best answer? The analytical part of me argues that this isn't always necessary. What should we do instead? Since I'm on a roll with lists, here goes another one:

1. Storyline is idiotic - This might be the ugly facet of your particular story, but that doesn't mean you should shoot it with a twelve gauge. Sit back and outline the basics of your story. Figure out what it is that doesn't really work and (god forbid) change it a little. Nobody says you have to completely re-write the story, like changing a blue sky planet to a red sky asteroid (although maybe this would be enough). Just take what positive things you can from it and run with them.

2. Main character is terribly created - This might be one of the most difficult aspects to change. We all fall in love with our characters, draw them up within our minds and make them real. Thats how they (hopefully) live for our readers as well. But if something isn't working, it isn't working. If your main character is just not what the story needs, strip 'em naked and hand 'em a gun. Give 'em a new haircut and a badder attitude (yes I know badder isn't a word, work with me here). Do what you can to salvage the character before you start all over.

3. No visuals, can't seem to "see" your world - This is harder to qualify but possibly easier to rectify. If you aren't seeing the world your story exists in, the reader definitely won't be seeing it. Start by asking yourself some of the basic questions - Who, What, When, Where, How. Sit back without writing anything and talk over (or scribble madly) the answers to these questions. Once you have a general idea, let your mind guide your hands as you detail it further. You may be surprised at how easily you can build your world through words, once you have a decent baseline.

4. No clear antagonist/wrong antagonist - I had difficulty with this particular item in my current WIP. I was looking for a "hook", something for my MC to struggle against. Then it dawned on me; She already had an antagonist, the demon inside herself that needed to be conquered. Sometimes we need to take a step back and define just what it is the MC is fighting against. Then we need to evaluate whether that idea makes sense, and if so we should run with it.

5. Its all been done before - You get started on your story, you have all of the above nailed, and then it dawns on you that this tale has been told before. Its Romeo and Juliet all over again - in space this time. Surprisingly enough, every possible tale has already been told in some manner or other, if you think about it. So don't think about it. If your tale is good, people will want to read it. Concentrate on making your story worthwhile, and don't worry about whether the same storyline has been told before. Someone is bound to find some similarity between yours and a previously written one. Its inevitable. But if you feel strongly enough that your story needs to be told, work your magic and make it a story worth reading.

This is not even close to an exhaustive list. There's a multitude of reasons for a story to be considered "bad", but that doesn't mean it always has to stay that way. Some stories can be resurrected from the dead, with a little work. But if you DO have to kill a story (hide it under the bed, shred it into little pieces, etc), learn what you can from it so that your next one is that much better.

What are your experiences with killing a story? How long did it take you to decide to pull the trigger?

1 comment:

The Screaming Guppy said...

I'm lucky, I guess, that I haven't felt the need to completely kill a story yet. I think, maybe killing is extreme - but I think you have to know when to put something away (even if you don't know how long you'll be putting it away.)

However, my first manuscript was 240,000 words of high fantasy. After I got over the elation of finishing something and sent it off to a publishing house, I took a little time off writing and started some new projects.

Somewhere in there, I realized that the work I was going to have to put into my 240k beast - including either cutting half of it or finding a way to divide it into two parts - and it scared the shit out of my.

So, right now, that book is under the bed collecting dust. I hope I can be brave enough to return to it some day, and do the really really hard work (at least things to me that make it scary!).

I hope I'm not pulling the trigger in the sense of leaving it lost in the woods to die. :) Maybe this post is just admiting that I'm too chicken to shoot! Though I have put some short stories out to pasture...

Nice post.