Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Creative Writing: Abandoning a Story



Within the "Short Stories" folder on my hard drive I have four sub-folders:

1. Write
2. Rewrite
3. Revise
4. Sell

These four folders represent the four stages each of my short stories go through, with the first three essentially representing the three major drafts most writers would suggest you create when writing. Some of my stories graduate from each folder faster than others. Some get sent back after sitting in the "Sell" folder too long. But nothing gets tossed aside. Everything's useful.

At least, that's what I thought.

I've been in the process of rewriting all of my pre-Soci of Metro short stories. It's safe to say that working on a project the size of Soci of Metro has honed my writing, rewriting, and editing skills, and I've found great satisfaction in applying those technical skills as well as my newly developed style to my older work. There's some stuff on my hard drive I haven't touched in years—stories I was convinced (at least when I wrote them) were complete in every way—and now they're far better and far more concise reads.

Anyway, there was one story I've been putting off revisiting for months. The story's name was American Stranger, and it's a story I knew I'd have to abandon.

I've written about American Stranger before. It was the first short story I ever wrote, and the first I ever tried to sell. It was originally called Nine Days, and it was awful. I can't describe how awful it was, because it was awful in every way. But then again, aren't all first attempts? That's what I told myself, and so I left Nine Days for some time before rewriting it and renaming it American Stranger.

Everything was different, but the core idea remained: If the sun rose red, and the world's electronic communications shut off, and all batteries started dying, and the clocks stopped, and the cars wouldn't start, how would the world look after nine days from the perspective of a young adult (not the YA kind) who lived alone in a small rural town?

American Stranger was a better story, purely on the basis that it had character. But it didn't have characters. They were static stereotypes of the kind of people I saw during my younger years in my semi-rural home town.

So I left American Stranger for three years, I wrote a novel, and I even wrote two better stories based on the premise and world of American Stranger. And now I drag the story back out again, and I give it a read, and oh-sweet-baby-jesus it's garbage.

Why is the crazy American crazy? Why is he American? Why does he have a working car when all the other cars have died? Why do the two main characters keep cracking jokes while the world ends around them? Why is there a dream sequence? Did I write this? Did I try and sell this?

The answer to those questions is yes. Wait, no it's not. Forget I said that. The point is, whether I like it or not, I have a story so broken that it can't be fixed without writing something entirely new. And I mean way beyond the process of rewriting. I mean something that'd take so long, I'm not sure it's worth doing.

As I said, I've written two other stories based on the premise and world of American Stranger. My failed first attempt at writing fiction has given birth to better work, even if I have to send American Stranger to the vets to be put down. It's not so bad. I'll just tell everyone that I was taking it there for a checkup and it died in the car. That's what my parents told us about our cat Magpie.

Thoughts and prayers for Magpie. She licked her bum a lot.

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