Monday, October 7, 2013

Is it worth revising a Trunk Story?

Do you have a story that you could never make work? Maybe more than one? Well, you're not alone. I have quite a few of these, and so do a lot of authors. Among these stories, is there one that still haunts you and taunts you with a premise that insists, "I could work!!!"?

Then you are tempted to revise a trunk story.

This shouldn't come as a complete surprise. Just because we aren't able to write a story to our own satisfaction doesn't mean that the idea is bad. I personally believe that it's a great idea to write with ambition, that is, to try to achieve something in writing that you're not sure you have the skill to accomplish with complete effectiveness. After all, writing is a constant process of learning, and ambition is what gets us to learn new and exciting things. How do you know if you can accomplish something in your writing unless you've attempted it? 

However, sometimes when we go back to these stories we that the text is so far from what we want that we're ready to disown them and trash them permanently. (I have several stories like that.) Here's my recommendation.

Don't trash them.

Hold onto those stories, because you never know when your Muse will suddenly whisper in your ear and say, "I think you might be ready to try that one again."

Let me be clear: a draft that will not yield to treatment but fights you at every turn is not worth flinging yourself at over and over. I'm working right now on a story that I haven't attempted in ten years. But at this point in my writing ability, I'm able to get a lot more exciting ideas for it, and I can imagine it turning out utterly different, though its ostensible core story is the same. Here are some steps to take:

1. Stay away from the old text until you have your new outline or premise clearly thought out. (You don't want your old level of skill to confuse your planning)

2. Spend time thinking through the story without looking at it and write down the bits you remember, because chances are you remember the best bits.

3. Only go back to the text if there's some critical event that must play out in a particular order, and you can't quite remember what order you put it in... or some such logistical information that you need to pick up from the old draft.

4. (You may have picked this up from the above) Don't let the old draft restrict you.

5. Never stop writing new things!

I put that last one in there because it's terribly important. Maybe you'll pick up your old story and try to do it right this time and it won't work. Yes, this has definitely happened to me. Don't let it discourage you; keep the file and save it for the next time the idea won't leave you alone. Always keep writing new things, because it keeps you learning and growing. At the same time, don't write off old stories that never worked just because you wrote them when you knew less. I'm sure we've all read enough to realize that the same premise can be executed in all kinds of different ways, successful and less successful. If you have an epiphany about an old story, that might just be what you need to give it the spirit you always imagined for it.

It's something to think about.


  1. The main questions I have about the trunk novel is in how to change the organization of the story, how to categorize its genre (it was written as a mystery, but has an underlying Cold War background), and how to describe the setting so that someone not familiar with the original it is based on would still be able to visualize it.

    Other than that, it has held up remarkably well - and I still love the main character and her voice.

    I got a few nice personalized rejections, ran into 'life,' and didn't pursue it then, but I will go back when I'm done with Pride's Children - and it will be a good one to self-publish as a historical mystery (after the cleanup).

    It is a bit surprising how easy it is for me to get back to that world - and pleasing. Can't get sidetracked right now, but it also had a sequel I was halfway through when inspiration for PC struck, so there is a second (and possibly a third) novel with the same characters waiting for me to have the time.

    'Historical mystery' is what happens when you let a mystery age almost 20 years (it was written in 1995) before tackling it again.

    1. Sounds like fun, Alicia. How funny that it has become "historical"! Good luck with it.