RIP_storyHow to Resuscitate a Dead Story

by Marg McAlister
 
Many of the articles that appear on the Writing4Success site are prompted by a request from a subscriber. This week another writer with a dilemma asked for advice. I quote (with some editing to make some details clear):
 
"If you have a minute, I would welcome some advice.... I'm up to Chapter 9 in a book I started 8 years ago. Over the years I tried so many times to pick up the story and finish it. But I never could. Here's my dilemma: I love what I've written so far. I have even tried to rewrite it, with no success. I feel like it is someone else's work and I am as much in the dark as anyone else who is reading it. I have no idea where the story is going. I have tried to do a plotting web; made plotting notes... everything, and I just don't know what is going to happen. Part of me wants to just forget about it, but a stronger part of me wants to finish it. I don't know if it is worth pursuing, or worth putting to bed for ever. I'm probably asking an impossible question, but any advice you can give me would be thoroughly considered."  
At first, I thought: well, where IS there to go? If someone has tried everything... then what could you do? But then... I thought of whatI might try to do if I found myself in the same situation.
 
Does it work? I have no idea, because I've never had quite the same dilemma. However, I think these tips on how to resuscitate a dead story probably would work for some writers, because it removes the stress of 'having' to come up with a plot that works. And if not... the author has lost only a few hours, and has exercised a few writing muscles!
 
Here is my suggestion:
 
Dear Writer,
 
I can understand your reluctance to let go of a book that has had so many hours put into it already (especially when you like what's been written so far), but after reading your email, my first thought was that you may have to - there didn't seem to be anything left for you to try!
 
If a writer doesn't know where the story is going, it's difficult to plot it further... and if that writer has already tried rewriting it without success... then what’s left?
 
Then I thought some more. (After all, I don't like to admit defeat!) There's always something worth trying. And, for what it's worth, here's my suggestion.
 
Try something completely different. (Only YOU will know if you have the time to do it, or if you feel like doing this at all.) 
 
Set yourself an hour a day to work on the story (even half an hour, if an hour seems too difficult) and JUST WRITE.
 
Don’t worry about where the story is going. Don’t worry about what might seem to ‘fit’. If it feels so foreign that it might as well be someone else’s work... then let’s have some fun with it and treat it as though that’s exactly what it is!
 
You know those writing games that are sometimes done in classrooms or in writing workshops, where someone writes the beginning of a story then passes it on to the next person, and they write a bit then pass it on, etc etc, until you end up with a hybrid story that belongs to everyone? That's pretty similar to what we'll do here.
 
Here's how it works.
 
  1. Read through the story so far (or even just the last chapter written).
  2. Take the story from where it is and write for an hour (or write ‘x’ number of pages, if that works better for you) with the sole aim of keeping the action going and making the reader continue to turn pages. Each time you finish writing for the day, you MUST leave it at a point where there is a question to be answered, or a mini-hook, or a suspenseful moment. It doesn’t matter whether you know what is going to happen next. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. This is something that the next writer in the chain will have to worry about! (Of course, that ‘next writer’ will be YOU, when you start the next day’s session.
  3. The next day, read through what you have done the day before, AS THOUGH IT HAS BEEN WRITTEN BY SOMEONE ELSE. Your job is solely to pick up from where the ‘previous writer’ left off, and to do exactly the same thing again... write a segment of the novel that will keep the reader turning pages, build the tension, keep the story moving, and finish on a mini-hook...
 
Can you see where this is going? It takes away the responsibility of HAVING to plot, or HAVING to finish the book, and so on. All you’re doing is writing a scene, or a series of scenes, or a number of pages, that will keep the story moving and give the next writer (cough – YOU) a good starting point for next time.
© Marg McAlister

 

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