Posts Tagged ‘old stories’

Reading Old Books vs New

A writing friend once, in the middle of a storycraft discussion, declared that if you want to be published, you shouldn’t be reading anything older than about five years. So, for example, if you’re reading anything before 2013 today, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot.

There is something to be said about this advice. By looking at the recent trends, especially in your genre, you can see what’s selling and what’s not, as well as what agents and publishers seem to like. (While something can come out of left field and be a bestseller, most books that are published are “safe” books.)

(Also, said friend is a bestselling author whose book has been optioned for television, so he does know what he’s talking about.)

If you’ve been around here at all, you know I’m terrible at following this advice. (As we speak, I’m wading through an 1896 novel called The Well at World’s End which is fantasy in the 1800s-romantic poetry sort of fashion.)

Is there something to be gained from reading older books?

Well, to be honest, probably not. I mean, not from a marketing standpoint. The publishing industry is not a static thing. Something that was big ten years ago probably won’t fly today. (And you have to remember that, if you’re reading traditionally published books, that the book that comes out today was probably accepted about two years ago, so the industry may have already moved on.)

But, I mean, that’s not why I’m reading them.

I’m reading them because I like to see the evolution of the genre. Because it’s interesting to see how genre conventions came into being and how they’ve changed over time. Because I like reading the stories that influenced the authors that influenced me.

And because, arguably, the things that worked once can be rewoven and reintegrated to work again in new ways.

What do you think, squiders? Do you like the occasional older work, whether it’s over a hundred years or closer to 50? Do you think there’s value in looking where we’ve been, or only in where we are?

Where to Find Story Ideas: Old Stories

First off, squiders, I know that I originally scheduled our discussion of Undersea, the second book in the Finnbranch trilogy, for today, but I’m going to move it to Thursday, both because I’m not quite done with the book (which has almost unequaled levels of unnecessary confusion) and because this is the last post in our where to find story idea series, so it makes more sense to do it first and then move on to other things.

Perhaps one of the best places to scrounge inspiration from can be your own, older stories. Ones that you abandoned, for whatever reasons. Ones that never worked quite right. Ones where you had to cut a character you loved because they didn’t fit into the plot you had envisioned. Ones that you wrote ages ago that don’t necessarily have anything wrong with them except that you were fifteen and still couldn’t consistently spell “probably.”

Let’s face it–it would be nice if every story you started ended with a complete, usable, readable draft, one that required very little editing before it was ready to go out the door to whatever its end goal is, whether it was just for fun to post on your website or intended for publication. But that’s not how stories work. Sometimes you get a near perfect draft, but sometimes you get a draft that, despite you trying fifteen times, cannot find a suitable ending. Sometimes you need to do a full rewrite, pulling subplots and characters and inserting new ones in their place. And sometimes, you’re just not capable of writing a particular story.

All that’s fine. That’s how the creative process works. Some things work better than others. Some things deserve to be stuck in a drawer, never to see the light of day again.

But just because a story never went anywhere, whatever the reason was, doesn’t mean that there weren’t aspects to that story that were good and interesting, and it doesn’t mean you can’t scavenge those aspects and move them to new stories, where they might be the perfect fix for whatever is ailing it.

As an example, let’s take my first novel, Hidden Worlds. I’d had two characters I’d been playing around with forever, named Cass and Nick, but I could not get their story to gel. I knew their relationship to each other (Nick had died, and Cass was willing to do anything, literally anything, to get him back) but I couldn’t ever seem to get anything more out of my story planning. So when I needed a story to add into the main plot of Hidden Worlds, I took Cass and Nick and added them in, and the rest, as they say, is history. Hidden Worlds wouldn’t be the story it is without them.

(Ironically, three or four years after Hidden Worlds was published, Cass and Nick’s story did finally come together through the simple action of me moving it into a world that already existed in another of my novel drafts, which is actually another good example of using bits from other stories to get your new one to work.)

Maybe you had a subplot about faeries that didn’t work in your paranormal romance but fits perfectly into your new MG fantasy. Maybe that spiky female friend that didn’t work as a sidekick would be a great main character. Maybe that neat worldbuilding that you couldn’t figure out how to smoosh into your science fiction action adventure would be perfect for the short story you’re writing for that anthology.

These aspects already interested you once; in the right place, at the right time, they could be exactly what you need.

There’s also something to be said about connecting your stories together. If a reader is a fan of one of your books, you might be able to pull them into another novel or short story if you can play up on their interconnectivity. This doesn’t have to be a straight series, but can be a spin-off where a minor character in the first book is a major one in the new one, or can simply take place in the same world, or can follow the same events in another place from another point of view. The possibilities are wide and varied, and you can do whatever feels best to you.

Anything to add, squiders? Ever find the perfect fix in a shelved story yourself?

Kit’s Early Works, Part 1

I am aware it is Teaser Tuesday, but I am not yet hip to the whole twitter writing scene and so, for now, I abstain.  Well, that, and the fact that I just finished a (second? rewritten first? who knows?) draft and am not currently writing much of anything aside from a serial story and a joint project with a friend.  Also, I am never home and have no drafts at my fingertips to share.

Someday, internet, someday.

So, instead, I thought I would wax poetic about my earliest work.  At least, the earliest I can remember.  When I was eight, my mother got WordPerfect for the computer (an ancient relic that I’m not even sure what it was exactly).  I don’t remember what she was doing with it, whether it was for work or whether this was a time period where she was actively writing herself.  I grew up adoring (and still do) my mother, and of course I wanted to do whatever she did, so she patiently taught me the keyboard shortcuts (Goddess, keyboard shortcuts.  Thank goodness most word processing programs have moved past that madness) and let me have at it.

The first thing I wrote was a story called The Seven Princesses, but then I discovered a book at the library with the same title, so I renamed it to The Seven Special Princesses.  Brilliant, I know.   Each princess had a special talent that my eight-year-old self thought was important.  One was really good at painting.  One was really good at braiding hair.  (I suspect even my younger self thought that last one was a lame talent but couldn’t think of anything better.)  Each one had their own tale of a couple pages, mostly about them getting kidnapped and their sisters coming to their rescue with their inane special powers.

I wish I could say I still had this wonder of literature, but unfortunately when I was fourteen I decided that everything I had ever written previously was crap and destroyed the entire lot, hard and soft copies alike.  Someday I will build a time machine and go back and slap teenage!Kit upside the head.  For many reasons, really, but this is a major one.