The Problem of the Failed Story

I happen to like the short stories I’ve written.  (Well, except for that karmic dog poop story.  Thankfully, I killed that after the first draft.  Note to self: Just because you wish you had a super power that would allow you to return dog poop to the dog owner that failed to pick it up does not mean you have to write a story about it.)

Anywho.  Back to the point.  As much as I like the short stories I’ve written, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that seven of the ten are probably not quite there.  They might have interesting ideas behind them or cool scenes within them, but overall they just don’t quite work in one way or another.

But they’re not awful.  (The people I’ve asked to read them are still speaking to me, which is a good sign.  And no one’s suggested counseling or called the cops.  Also a plus.)

Which is where we run into the problem of the failed story.  Because, in an ideal world, I would cannibalize those less than perfect stories.  I would strip out the idea or the scene and I would use it elsewhere.  Somewhere it could do some good.

And yet, I hesitate.  I don’t want to destroy those stories.  I don’t want to tear them into little bits and pieces and use the parts like some sort of organ donation scheme.  Sure, they’re probably on life support at this point.  But I don’t want to pull that plug just yet either.

So they sit there.  Unpublished (and likely to remain that way).  And I think about that scene or that idea and I’m tempted to use it elsewhere, but I know I can’t just yet.  (Because what happens if one of them actually does get published and I’ve used something almost identical in another story?  Not good…)

Same with novels.  I don’t consider my first novel failed.  (I just finished going through it and incorporating edits from that editor (not too bad, really) and now need to beef it up by about 4,000 words (which will satisfy the world-building recommendations that were made and get it up to 90,000 words).  And then I have to turn my attention back to the query.  Ugh.  But at least now I might have some gut feel for how to summarize it in an appealing way.)

(BTW, I now know I have a may vs. might issue as well…)

If the novel doesn’t get published, what do I do with all the ideas I was exploring in there? And what about the ideas I sort of kind of touched upon but didn’t really flesh out?

I think this may be how some authors end up with repeating themes or imagery in their writing.  They keep revisiting an idea or an image until they finally manage to explain it to their satisfaction.  Or they keep revisiting it because there are so many different angles from which you can approach it.

(And how scary is it that it’s been almost twenty years since I studied Borges but I still remember that he often used labyrinths and libraries in his writing?  Why did that knowledge stick in my brain?  What good is it doing me?  At least all the song lyrics in my head allow me to sing off-key when a song comes on the radio…)

This brings me back to the notion I’ve heard before that at some point a story will freeze for an author.  Or harden up.  (Or whatever that person said that made so much more sense than either of those two images…)

When you’re first writing, the story is malleable–you can change the character’s gender, the setting, the outcome, it can become a sci-fi story instead of a fantasy.  Anything goes.

But at some point you make a decision about what that story is and it starts to take on a specific form.

It’s like when you’re working clay.  Before you fire a piece you always have the option of throwing it back in the water and letting it dissolve back into a lump of clay.  But once you’ve fired it, you’re stuck with that shape and all you can do is use paints to change its surface.  (That analogy would be based upon my one year of pottery classes, so not an expert opinion by any stretch.  Just like this post in general…)

So, these stories are all at that stage.  They’ve been finalized to the point where I’m not sure I can change them too much, because my mind sees them as just one thing right now and won’t see them differently.

Hm.  Seems it may just be time for the sledge-hammer…

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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4 Responses to The Problem of the Failed Story

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    Interesting metaphor.

    The superpower I keep wishing for is the ability to force vehicles to turn when they are indicating (or more usually not turn if they have not). Less messy than yours but not perfect.

    • mhleewriter says:

      That’s a good one, too. I sit behind people like that and make weird hang gestures pointing at their blinking light. I like to think that on occasion they notice and that’s why they finally turn their blinker off five blocks later. (I also like to pretend that I can make traffic lights change…It doesn’t have to be true to make me happy.)

      • Dave Higgins says:

        It irritates me less when driving. The time I wish for it most is when I want to cross the road; I can cope with seeing a car approaching, deciding I do not have time to cross safely, then watching them turn off; however, having to suddenly break into a run because they have turned onto the road I am crossing without warning niggles me (more so if they glare at me as if they are in the right.)

      • mhleewriter says:

        Oh, yeah. That’s just downright dangerous.

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