Spring Cleaning Your Stories

Spring Cleaning Your Stories

I took a couple days off to enjoy spring break with my family (my wife is a teacher and our daughter is off for the week). Like a lot of people, we used some of the time to do some spring cleaning–or, in our case, some spring clearing-out. We have too much stuff and some of it has just got to go.

Early spring is a time many people use to get rid of old or unused things.

What do you do with old stories you never finished?

I have a few (well, presuming we can stretch the definition of “a few” beyond its usual boundaries) lying around. Every now and then, I’ll go back and look at them. The main thing I discover is that I stopped working on them for a reason . . . usually several reasons, in fact. Sometimes, the plot is thin. Other times, the characters aren’t well defined.

Most of the time, though, it’s because the writing makes me cringe.

Sure, I’m reading these with the writing equivalent of hindisight. Presuming we get better at this craft the more we do it, old stories should make us cringe a little. If we can get past the cringing, is there anything we can do with these stories?

I say there is. Read them. Get past the cringing and look at the plot. Look at the characters. Is something usable there? If so, take it and run with it. Come up with a better idea, or make the conflict more apparent, or whatever. But take a good idea and give it a good story.

My mystery novels feature a character born in short stories. While I think most of the stories are pretty bad, what they did was allow me to find the character’s voice. I fleshed out his background and the supporting players. And some of those stories have become the basis of novels. Why? The ideas were worthwhile. I just had to do better with them.

So when you find your old stories and they make you want to cringe, go ahead and cringe. Recognize that you’re a better writer now then when you wrote that story. But don’t throw the story away. Your present better-writing self might be able to take the bones of it and make it into something great.

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