Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is your story worth saving?

I'm deep in revisions on a story, and I'm having a love/hate relationship with it. I've even ventured into "is it worth saving?" territory. I scoured the blogosphere for a magic answer, but soon realized I must make this decision on my own. Here are some questions I asked myself:

Do you love this story?
Is the story structure solid?
Does it have a unique hook?
Does it pack an emotional punch?
Despite parts that make you want to pull your hair out,
are there really good parts too?

Fortunately I was able to answer yes to these questions. While not every story can be saved, I realized this wasn't a question of whether or not my story was worth saving, but whether or not I was willing to put in the hard word to rescue it.

What to do? In WRITING MAGIC, Gail Carson Levine tells how she writes several versions of some scenes, then chooses the one that works best. And in this great post by Susan Sipal we're reminded to follow J.K. Rowling's example and "...rewrite until we get it right."

And there are still two life preservers I haven't thrown yet:
  1. Beta readers. We're too close to our own work, and it becomes impossible to separate the "what were you thinking?" moments from the "wow, this is good" moments. Plotting & pacing issues, inconsistencies, and unnatural dialog might become white noise to the writer, but beta readers will point this out. A life saver indeed.
  2. Patience. This is the tough part. I want my story to be perfect right now. Levine reminds us that no book is perfect, even those currently sitting on shelves (although some are darn close). And there's no rule that says the 5th, 7th, or 18th draft must be the draft. If we're patient, the true story, the one that was meant to be told, will come to fruition.
Is your story worth saving, or should you allow it to sink quietly to the bottom of the sea? In my opinion, that's a personal choice each writer must make. If you've found a resource that helps with this decision, please share it in the comments.

48 comments:

  1. Julie, I think you are right - it's a personal choice, but if several readers felt the same way, I'd probably consider letting the story go. I'm glad you were able to answer yes to all your questions about this story, though. Good luck with the rest of your revisions.
    Karen

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  2. Yes, a personal choice it is. Some MS needs more than others.

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  3. It is personal between you and the manuscript.

    I was doing some revising of a book I had written a few years back. I started rewriting some of the chapters. All of a sudden, it just seemed too big. I thought about pitching the whole thing into the garbage...but pushed through (with lots of patience) and now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm glad I decided to take the advice to "rewrite until we get it right"

    Great post.

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  4. Those are great questions, Julie. I just gave up on a project that I had half finished, but the plot just wasn't unique enough. But I was able to pick up the best pieces and use them to create my new wip.

    Giving up on a project is not always a bad thing. If you can't make it work--and you can't always make a story work--it's best to just let it go, or better yet, recycle the parts that were working into something new.

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  5. It's definitely one of those personal choice/case by case kind of things. Sometimes, you can rethink, reread, and send out to beta's until you're blue. In the end, I think we all must go with the gut, that niggling little voice that knows the answer, but maybe we didn't like the answer so we ignored it. One thing I try to remember is to really look it over and not decide to pack it in on a story because I'm questioning my abilities (which does happen). Sometimes it needs to sit and wait for me to make the decision when I'm rational instead of over emotional. There are times when I'm in for a long wait on that one...;)

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  6. Julie your posts just get better and better! This is awesome. Unfortunately there's one other option, though it pains me to say it. And I know why you didn't include it - because you would never choose it! But some people get so frustrated they decide it's finished and ready to go. *headpalm* Patience is a virtue (cliche I know), but if we don't put in the work - ALL the work - we won't get anywhere.

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  7. Having that extra set of eyes from critique partners or beta readers is just sooo important. We can never be impartial about our own work because we not only see what's on the page, we hear what's in our head. Others can't (besides Snape!) :-)

    I've let one story sink, but am mining it for nuggets that I can use in my new WIP!

    And thanks for the links! :-)

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  8. Love that you refer to Betas and Patience as Life Preservers!!

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  9. Oooh, I'm so bad at patience. I actually have two stories I need to consider saving or drowning, I better start thinking! Great advice. :)

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  10. I identify with this quandary. A couple of years ago, I abandoned a novel when I was more than 100 pages in. I'd invested a lot of time and effort researching and writing it, but I came up with an idea for another story that captivated me. I still hope to return to the previous novel one day. Maybe a fresh perspective and more experience will help me stay invested in it next time.

    It can be helpful to step away from your story for a little while -- even a few days.

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  11. Those are great questions to consider. And it is personal. I find it helpful to work on two stories at one time, that way you can set one aside and review it from a diffent perspective later.

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  12. I recommend the test readers and critique partners!

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  13. I fear becoming addictedly dependent on beta readers. I am in that spot right now, trying hard to edit/rewrite a chapter, but feel so inclined to send it off as I know my reader will have great course corrections for me...but then I feel needy and know I should do better.

    Separating myself from the word to look objectively is always a challenge for me, even when I don't like what I've written. It's still mine, and seldom do I let it sink out of sight.

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  14. What a great series of questions! You've just given me a new boost with which to approach my WIP. There is such reward in revisions when you feel your story becoming more polished and effective. *puts nose back to the grindstone*

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  15. I'm with you on the patience thing: I want it to be perfect right now!!! LoL. Of course I know that won't happen, but the important thing, like you said, is whether or not you're willing to put in the work to rescue it!

    Good luck with your revisions, Julie!

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  16. I'm just going through a very painful time with the book that I wrote and that I came to hate. I even made a very ranty post about it on my blog today [http://faridamestek.blogspot.com/2011/06/i-have-huge-book-problem.html] but your post made me think and realise that, maybe, my story is worth saving too. Thank you!

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  17. I understand this completely. I'm two chapters from the end of a rewrite and it is becoming painful. I don't think I've ever felt this way about something I've written before, which is worrying, but then I read through the entire mss a few days ago and loved it.

    Love/Hate: A writer's life!

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  18. Julie, thank you so much for this post. Your timing was perfect for me. This is something I've been struggling with while revising my WIP and as I was able to answer yes to your checklist, I've decided to soldier on with it. Great post!

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  19. I agree, ultimately, we have to make that decision ourselves. Betas help and setting it aside and then coming back to it helps. My problem is def. lack of objectivity. Lots to think about.

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  20. My "AHA!" moment of the day! I have a novel that needs some major revision, and I've wondered about some of the questions you listed. So true about being too close to your own work. I think sometimes we feel like certain things are written in cement, and we're so used to them or in love with a certain scene that the messy and often painful work of jackhammering and reforming can overwhelm. That's where I'm at with this particular novel anyway.

    Thanks for the great post!

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  21. That's always a tough decision. I think every story has some element that makes it worth saving, or else we wouldn't have started to write it in the first place. Sometimes the key is getting down the core of the story, and why we wrote it. When we reach that, then we have our answer.

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  22. I struggle at this stage. I've put aside 2 novels that I actually think are workable - they just need work. I've learned so much since I've written them. I need to find a big chunk of time to really go through them and decide what to do. :)

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  23. I definitely have many of those moments, mostly when I'm burned out on revisions or whatever - like with my novel SUNDOWN. I've had to leave it alone for fear I'll go nuts & delete the whole thing :P

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  24. I love the idea of writing different scenes and choosing the one that works best. Gonna have to use that one.

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  25. Ooh, great tips. I'm still in the planning stage but I don't think it's too early to start considering these questions. Thanks for the post!

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  26. Great questions! For me, time is the answer. Sometimes starting a shiny new project sends me back to the old one because I remember how much I love it and how much I have invested in getting it to the best state I can manage.

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  27. I've let a few picture book manuscripts fall to the ocean floor. I don't know how much harder it would be with an epic novel. The first MG novel I ever wrote may just be dredged up after all, even bottom of the ocean stories can be brought back to life. Only time can tell you.

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  28. Love this post Julie. And I too love the idea of writing different scenes to see which one works best. This would be a great tool to use on beta's as well. If they don't like a particular scene or if you aren't sure about it, have them read an alternate version and see which scene they prefer.

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  29. Asking your critique partners or beta readers is a great way to get an outside opinion. There are times many of us have wanted to give up but one of our sisters saw that something special in our story and wouldn't let us.

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  30. It is a personal choice, but it can be a tough one. I think it does help to have wonderful critique partners and readers for guidance, but in the end I guess it's really about how much passion and devotion there is for the project. Sometimes I will put something away for a while, too. This often gives me a fresh perspective.

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  31. Funny! I'm in the same boat as you are! And I loved to hear what you had to say. And I'm impatient, too!! :P

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  32. Love your questions, Julie. Went through each one, dutifully asking myself how to answer w/regard to my novel, and came out with "whew! I can do this." But it's a big old pile o' paper to get through and stay objective! i can do it, i can do it, i can . . .

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  33. I feel my story is worth saving. As I finish the last few scenes of my first draft, I feel that I can answer "yes" to all of your questions, which is a good thing! I have a lot of work left to do but am ready for it. :)

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  34. Whew, I'm glad you were able to answer YES and keep going. I hope you find a super way to "rescue" the story! Yes, it definitely can be HARD work to make a novel shine...

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  35. I have a story like that. I love the story, but it was my first and therefore it STINKS! I keep hoping to resurrect it, but who am I kidding? Someday I'll have the courage to just cut it loose.

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  36. Good post Julie and even better that you've tossed you life preserver to it. In truth, I feel every story is worth saving. If it was worth writing then it should be worth saving. Revisions can be frustrating and downright evil sometimes but when you have a spot to gain some perspective you can usually find your way through the labyrinth. Sometimes revisions can be a matter of changing a few lines in each chapter and sometimes a re-write but it should never be abandoned. You may move onto another idea or project for a period but in the end you should come back and bring that piece to life. Anything worth writing is worth reading.

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  37. Julie~

    Tag, you're it! You've been tagged in a game of Blog Tag:)

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  38. Hmmm... my MSs have to be very bad or something really drastic has to happen for me to give up my story.

    Even at the darkest of dark moments, I just kept going, because I didn't want to let go of something that forms such a vital part of my life.

    :-) Still, I think it differs from person to person.

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  39. Julie,

    I'm new to your blog and what a great first post to read! This has me thinking about some of the projects I've scrapped because I didn't have the bandwidth to rescue them. Now I might have to pick a few back up and stop being lazy...

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  40. When I feel that way, I spend a few hours (or days!) analyzing my original concept of the story and why it isn't resonating. Usually, I've lost track of my book's goal. When I get it back, I love the story again!

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  41. 'do i love this story?' is the first, middle and last question for me. if i answer yes, then it is worth any hiccups to keep on moving the plot forward.

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  42. I have a book that I'm willing save, but I need to give it a loooooot of distance first. If I'm still excited about it when I return to it, then I know it's worth it to spend the time to save it. :D

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  43. Betas & crit partners are great at pushing your ms as far as it can go. At some point you have trust you've done the best you can and put it out there for the pros to decide on. And there may come a time at this point where you have to decide whether it should be put away. But I don't think you should do that until you've reached this phase. Every story's like a dream & should have the chance to come true.

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  44. Its a personal choice, Julie....some stories should be left alone and the writer must move on to another story that will work well. Beta Readers and Crit partners are indeed good guides and can nudge us in the right direction.

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  46. I loved WRITING MAGIC when I read it years ago. Levine's just got such a way with words...she really inspired me to keep going.

    Hmm...maybe I'll troll around the library for that book again... :)

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  47. Julie, I'm so far behind commenting on posts - I apologize for that... but I was thinking about this post at 4:30 this morning. I have a story idea - which I have started and ran it by my CP and she loved it. (I even put my other two MS's on hold to work on this one.) But the last few days it's been a struggle to write, which made me wonder "if it's worth saving". I asked myself the questions you listed and answered "yes" to them. Talked with my CP first thing this morning and we brainstormed. So with your help and hers - you guys got me back on track, and back into a positive mode with the story.
    Just wanted to share and say thank you.

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