14 October 2009

When Do You Scrap A Story?

I read this fantastic article the other day about drawer novels. If you have a minute to spare, definitely go read it – and make sure you check out the comments, where people have to give a 25 word (or less) description of a novel they’ve drawered. There are some hilarious ones there – it’ll make you feel better about your own, I promise ;)

I have two questions today: Firstly, what are drawer novels? And secondly, how do you know you have one?

In other words, when and how can you tell that it’s time to give up on a story, shelve it, and move on?

The term ‘drawer novel’ comes from the idea that we all have novels that are (or should be) shoved in a drawer, never to see the light of day again. They’re often our first attempts at writing, although not always, and they’re often tragically melodramatic, full of plots holes and clichés and Bad Ideas that lulled us into a false sense of security.

That’s what a drawer novel is; but how do you know you have one?

This is a tricky question for me, because I love editing. I can tinker pretty endlessly with a story, which has two implications here: 1) I run the risk of never actually ceasing the editing, and so I never end up getting the necessary time away from the story to develop distance, which is requisite to being able to judge the story’s merit; and 2) I find it hard to write off any idea, because I know that with sufficient tweaking (read: editing ;)), anything can work. This is why I have 59 novels on my to-write list……

That said, there are a handful of stories that I have that have ended up in the folder on my computer I’ve affectionately called “The Dumping Ground”. Interestingly enough, this includes practically everything I ever wrote for the creative writing classes I took at university o.O

Mostly, they’re short stories. Stories that are melodramatic, stories that too clearly were addressing the assessment criteria, stories with no point or that are contrived; a novel that was a teenage-angst attempt at recording all the unfair things that happened in my last few years of high school (shudder); a novel where the MC turned into someone I hated. Although that one I’m tempted to pull out and tweak. Anything with editing, right? O:) hehe.

But how did I know these stories were dumpers, not keepers? One word: time. Only time will give you the distance you need in order to be able to judge your stories objectively. But then again, time will only work with another word: practice. If you don’t practice, if you aren’t getting out there and learning what makes a good story, you can leave a dud as long as you like and you still won’t know it’s a dud when you come back to it. You have to have progressed, you see.
Which is where the final word(s) comes in: a second opinion. You can practice, you can improve, and you can return to your work after time – but a second opinion never hurts, especially from someone you trust to be objective but constructive.

So, tell me. How many drawer stories do you have? Is anyone brave enough to share what one of their drawer stories is about?


Kristi Faith said...

tWow, great timing with this post and me stumbling across it. I've actually been a little worried for the past week or so that my current WIP is a drawer novel. Young girl-ready to build her future, haunted by the past blah blah (how I feel about it right now)

I am also like you, and I love to edit, re-arrange and play with what I've got. I have at least 12 small starts/short stories/rough ideas for novels. :)

So, now the dilemma? I've had a second and third opinion on my novel. One from another writer-she likes it, Second from a friend who is simply an avid reader. She's begging me to finish. So-you would think I'd feel pretty confident about-but I feel myself faltering lately.

Inkblot said...

Hi Kristi! Welcome to my blog :) Have you considered the idea that perhaps you just need a bit of a break? Sometimes when we're really pushing to focus on one particular thing, it can suck the life out of us a bit - I'm feeling like that with my current novel; I can't look at it objectively and know it's not awful, because I'm too exhausted with it. Maybe your novel is just fine, and you just need to go play with something else to refresh yourself for a while!

Lady Glamis said...

Oh heavens. I often think all three of my novels so far are drawer novels. It depends on what I make of them, though.

Depending on how I look at things, my work can be terrible or wonderful. It often depends on the day. But you're right. Time is usually the only way to tell.

beth said...

Oh, I have way more drawer books than I would ever care to admit to! Let's just say I've been practicing for awhile, and have the practice novels to prove it!

Merc said...

(Sorry about the long post!)

A month or two ago, I went through my short story files and dumped maybe... a third to half in 'Cold Storage'. For various reason: they sucked, too trite, they were written too long ago, I have no interest in editing them, I no longer like them, they aren't working, whatever.

I actually don't believe editing can fix _anything_. ;) Perhaps taking a premise or idea and re-writing it from scratch as your skills improve, yes, but that's maybe a little different.

I've trunked bunches of novels. A lot of my first attempts and a few first novels. In some cases, I've taken the core idea and reworked it and started over from scratch (such as my anthro novel about a pine marten working as an assassin in a mongoose kingdom).

Maybe my most... memorable "drawer" novel would be my first nanowrimo novel, FIREREAPER TWILIGHT. I rewrote the sucker (completely) five times, over five years. Then I shelved it.

It's basically your epic quest fantasy--a fellowship of dudes and one dudette travel across the country to find Items of Power to stop the emperor's plan to resurrect an arm of demon warriors (to win a civil war). There were admittedly the aforementioned demons, shapeshifting velociraptors, an ambiguous sense of "good" and "evil", lots of death and destruction, and I like several of the main cast.

But really, the world-building is uninspired and lacks shiny, it's a fairly straightforward epic quest fantasy, it's bloody long (150k, I think--which was one book. The story needs two books, a duology), and while the fifth incarnation actually fixed the plot satisfactorily (for me), it still has too many issues (including a godmode MC, ack) I'm not interested in fixing.

(So, in classic Merc fashion, I merely stole a couple of the more interesting characters and gave them their own novella and a few short stories. :P)

Weirdly, I have a semi-drawer novel, another former NaNo novel, which I want to actually finish before shelving. Call me strange. ;)

It involves a guy who steals the most powerful artifact in the world to heal his wife, ends up alienating everyone he's ever known, destroying his homeland, and killing everyone in the end. And the theme is apparently "life sucks and then you die" which... yeah.

Okay, will stop spamming your comment thread. :P I basically have probably at least half a dozen novels trunked, and waaaay more short stories, and I think my criteria for shelving a story is as much about whether it works as whether I have any interest in it any longer.

If that makes sense. *shrugs* ;)

Good post, Inky One, and thanks for the link!


House 6 said...

How many drawer novels? I've lost count. I've been tinkering with, and discarding, ideas for the better part of two decades (oh gosh - I'm old!). And maybe a tenth of what I write sees the light of day or the eyes of any human being besides me.

Less a tenth of that tenth are submitted for publication as short stories or are planned for queryland.

I have a story about twin dwarf children and their flying carpet. I have a story about dwarves riding wolves (I like dwarves - I'm short and they understand this). I have several stories with strange towers and architecture, it seems to have been a theme one year.

I have one about a resurrected goddess and her zombie horde in space. Um, yeah... anything to get me through HS, right?

I have one about an elderly sleuth, her two children, her pet brown goose, and the murder of a bride in the 1500's. It's complicated... but the goose is essential to the plot line. And the murder would take a concussed pigeon to solve so, y'know.

I have one about a nine year old intergalactic art thief.

I have one about a boy who inherits a space fleet and a war from his grandmother and juggles interstellar negotiations and hostage raids with college classes.

I have one about a single fighting vampires.

I have on about a single dad who is a vampire.

I have a book about people who ride sharks and want to take over the world.

So, yeah... lots of good drawer fodder. Each I love in it's own way. Each is special because I'm sentimental. But, realistically, those aren't marketable.

Inkblot said...

Glam - Yes, time - because otherwise it's too easy to be emotional about the decision, and love or hate it based on how we feel on the day :D Your work is good. Have faith :)

Beth - Well, they say practice makes perfect, so you know :D

Merc - I /like/ long posts, so don't apologise :P Trunking stories based on your interest level makes perfect sense. I weed through my stories about once a month, and usually end up pulling as many /out/ of storage as I put in.

Editing, rewriting - two faces of the same coin. You can fix ANYthing if you can identify what's actually broken of it :D *incorrigible* O:)

Li - Some of those sound fun! *shrug* I don't see why they can't be marketable, if done correctly. But then, I think we've established by now that I seem reluctant to give up on anything, ever! O:) hehe.

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