When is a Story Truly Dead?

I hear it in interviews, from my writer friends, at book signings – the novel that went into a drawer, never to come out again.  Their first or third or eighth novel that was so bad it didn’t deserve to see the light of day.  The novel that, for all intents and purposes, was dead.

But do stories ever truly die?

I admit I can be somewhat unfocused.  For every finished story I have there lies four more abandoned, forgotten, lost to time and space.  They’re dead, right?  If I haven’t thought about them in a decade, then obviously they’ve kicked the bucket, shuffled off their mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible, right?

Wrong.  So very very wrong.

It seems that any story I put real thought into, where I spent any time at all thinking about plot and/or characters, whether I got two pages or ten chapters, never dies.

Recently my muse blessed me with a plot for a story that I considered so dead I had already stolen two of the main characters for another story.  The scifi series I worked on as a teenager continues to give me scenebunnies.

Perhaps most telling of all, the dragon story I wrote when I was twelve (starring my and my cousins’ extremely thinly veiled counterparts) occasionally rears its head, bringing promises of intrigue and betrayal.

What do you do when old stories won’t die?  Maybe it’s not worth it to kill them, but I feel bad when I’ve got a story idea that’s been sitting there for a decade and I haven’t gotten around to it.

Do you have stories that are really, truly, dead?  What was it that killed them – plot, characters, marauding alpaca? What’s the longest you’ve gone from putting a story away for “good” and when they reared their head again?  (It’s 16 years for me on the dragon story.)

2 responses to this post.

  1. I do have stories that will never see the light of day again, because they were just too flawed — derivative, lacking conflict, featuring Mary Sue MCs. But I also have stories that I’d still like to go back to and tell properly, though it may never happen.

    Currently I’m working on a novel that was first written in 2006 and has never been finished. (I’ve written three more in between.) It bears not much resemblance to that version.


  2. My first novel, the one languishing in a drawer that was started in the late ’90s and ‘finished’ in 2003, despite deserving death, still whimpers and taps on the its prison walls on occasion. There are bits that are worth salvaging (and have been), though I can’t see myself going back and resurrecting it completely. It was a worthwhile intellectual exercise, and I definitely developed my writing craft by writing it. And boy, did my craft need developing!

    I think it is those few scenes I am truly proud of in it that make me sad it isn’t worth saving. Hopefully some day I will find a use for all those good bits somewhere, so they weren’t written in vain.


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