Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Are your old story ideas still good ideas?

So, yesterday, we had a big test. We spent the whole day studying and pounding knowledge into our head -- the WHOLE day. We felt like fairly adequate students by the time the teacher tossed (literally) our test packets onto our desks.

But this was how the test went:

Anytime a test is deliberately created to confuse or otherwise bash the student's head in, I get a little passionate about it. After class, we spent our mile hike back to the car very expressively. We might have scared away a few monsters in the night.

But now that I've gotten over the angst of it all, I have some rare itty-bitty time to work on creative things.

Back in my freshman year of high school, I finished my first full manuscript, and as the story had been a product of a dream, influenced from Lord of the Rings -- and Peter Pan, and Treasure Planet, which might inspire the image of a cyborg Legolas and fairy dust...and I suppose isn't all that farfetched -- it was a pure overdose on everything fantastical. EVERYTHING. Wow, looking back on it, it hurts. I cringe. Almost a decade later, I can truly say that it was a hot mess.



There are, actually, some redeeming features. Boiled down, the story is good. Luckily, there're no trends that drag it down (vampires, zombies, dystopian, dystopian vampire-zombies), and as I plowed through the story in my head (because I dare not read it), I found much of it is salvageable. I altered the ending, altered the characters, built on the twists, and really fortified a world that was already intriguing to begin with.

I had some good ideas when I was fourteen, I just have better ideas NOW.

Many writers (who don't mystically sell the first book they ever wrote) go through the same process, especially if they trunked a book that was never picked up by an agent or publisher. So, you might be asking, "Is my story salvageable?"

There are some basic things you should consider first. The BIG question is: has this story already been written?

Now, I don't mean that black and white. Every story has already been told, but is your INTERPRETATION untold? Is your story about a boy wizard who goes to wizarding school? Is your story about a girl who falls in love with a vampire/werewolf/angel/vampire-werewolf-angel and gets caught up in vampire-werewolf-angel affairs?

If so, you might want to give this story some time.

But, if you do your reading like you should, and you know your premise is completely unique, then there may be some promise.

HOWEVER, and this is the big, fat, all-caps HOWEVER, be prepared to slaughter the heck out of it. Your premise might be magical, but your story might suck. You might have to throw out the whole thing and start with a nice, crisp blank document.

How do you know if you have to throw out the whole thing?

This is going to be a hippie way to put it, but does your story have SOUL? Does it breathe? Does it have personality? Does it have attitude? Does it have a sense of fashion and wear awesome shoes?

Or does it wear really ugly shoes? shoes? (It has about 42% chance of being a Hobbit, if that's the case.)

These are all questions you should ask of any of your stories.

Other questions you should be asking: Is it too cliched? Is the plot wrought with holes? Does it match my intended audience? Have I read enough in and around this genre? Do I KNOW the genre and my audience? Is the story's feet hairy?

Also, the most important question you should always ask yourself when plotting: Can I do this BETTER?

As an (cough cough cough) "artist", I'm very intimate with this question. I got to the point during my life drawing studies where I was doing fairly well, but had plateaued. So, I started asking myself, "What can I do to make this even BETTER?"

Sometimes it was as easy as building on the energy of my lines. Sometimes it was hard, intensive work, like learning every muscle and every bone in the body.

This also applies to writing.

And it's also why I write with an outline. I slap every plot point down in a relatively chronological order, and then I go through and make it all the best I possibly can. The end result is a very neat, tight, fast-paced formula that's as best as I can make it. When agents have ultimately rejected the manuscript, I know I can say that I did the very best I could.

Look at this old story of yours. How can you make it EVEN BETTER?

If you've gone through this process already, what did you do? What other tips do you have?

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