Save your first stories. Twenty years from now, you will find their forgotten box. A silly smile will cross your lips to read that title, see that opening …
Then the cringing starts. Wince. Groan.
You’ll find a mixture of the horrible, trite, and posturing with unexpected virtues and beauty. You can actually find a paragraph here, a description there, and even one or two concepts worth recycling. I wrote better about snow in the days I slogged through it than after many uninterruptedly tropical years.
Today, though, you’re stopped dead on a story that may be worth saving, but …
You wince right now.
Congratulations! In the process of writing even this far, you have learned so much that you have already outgrown the story.
Can revision of basic concepts can save this?
Usually, it can. Obvious Mary Sues can turn interesting, fan-fiction sheds its derivation, and stereotypes grow so you can’t tell they were ever cardboard.
You need to pinpoint problems to find solutions for each. They may include…
- Arch or overwrought writing. If it makes you wince, you’re already past this stage. *Keep scenes and structure, but rewrite the way you can now.
- Characters all sound alike: no one is more or less clever, more masculine or feminine. Characters all act alike, except for being good or bad. Any “different” characters are vaudeville stereotypes. Character motivations are thin or confused: the characters don’t have their own motivations, just obey author motivations to make the plot work. Characters act on or react to author knowledge they shouldn’t have. *These may take only cosmetic fixes, or may require a ground-zero plot revamp. You can characterize better than this now.
- Plot secrets are obvious, or will be to anyone reading the cover blurb. Fan-fiction and self-publication admittedly have the merit of avoiding this major fault of regular publishers.
- Pacing is slow, or all at one high level, or bumps up and down regularly as a metronome rather than building to a climax. Pacing keeps falling flat, lacking in excitement. You need high-level revision, dropping, adding, or changing scenes. A major problem like bead plotting needs plot rebuilding.
If you have to make bone-deep changes, unfinished is good: less to throw out, and you can feel revision leads to a first rough draft.
You may also decide this is too deeply flawed to be worth revision. You can start a new project fresh, freed by putting this effort in the Bottom Drawer. Sometimes “finishing what you started” is throwing good time away.
(Underlined items will some day be links when I get those blog items up.)