History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

When a Story Doesn’t Work

When I get an idea for a story, I generally try to see that story through to the end. I’m a firm subscriber to the maxim that “perfect is the opposite of done,” so I try my hardest to get a draft finished before I start poking at it.

But sometimes, I get that story done and know that it’s broken. On other occasions, I realize that the story is broken before I finish it. Sometimes, I will still try to finish up the story, just to have it done, even if it’s potentially unredeemable. But other times, I just have to stop midway through, admit that it’s not working, and put it away. For me, I call this backburnering a story. I tuck the pieces away somewhere secure, but I don’t worry about figuring out how to fix it … yet.

Because I’ve saved the pieces, I can go back into the folder where I keep all of those half-finished and broken stories. Sometimes, the perspective of time helps me figure out where I went wrong, and how I can fix it. The story that I wrote for Bargains was a story like that. I’d started the story years ago, but between somewhat unlikable protagonists and a lack of a sense of direction, I gave up on it. During one of my occasional combs through that “junk” folder, I re-read what I had written. While I couldn’t remember what the heck I had originally planned for this story, I saw within it a nugget of something that I could work with, and figured out how to rework the good bits and finish the story.

The biggest lesson learned from this for me is: don’t delete your broken story fragments or broken stories. Tuck them away, and come back to them with fresh eyes later. They may be unsalvageable even on a second (or third … or fourth …) look, but there may still be something you can mine from them later, like a great bit of dialogue or a fun character or a cool description. So whether it’s computer files or hand-written stuff, find a way to keep them around!


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