Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Writing stories or novels? Bury the Dead Horse.

Have you ever tried to resurrect a story that just didn't have any life to it? I have. The other day I tried to edit a story I had written about our family several years ago. I slammed down my pen on the table and got up and paced around the livingroom.

My husband who was sitting on the couch and reading glanced up at me and said, "What's the matter?"

I glared at him and said, "No matter how hard I try I can't make this story come alive."

"Oh," he said. "Sounds like you've got a dead horse. Why don't you just bury it? Don't keep beating the poor thing."

"Because I still really like the idea."

I went back to editing but Ron's words kept coming back in my mind.

How could I tell if this "horse" was actually dead?

As you may have guessed by now, I love playing with words, creating new ideas and ways of looking at things. New perceptions. So I took the metaphor of the dead horse even farther in my mind. A little crazy but fun. I went back many years to my nursing days. Yes. I needed a stethoscope to examine the story and find out whether it was still alive.

Here are the questions I came up with to check whether my "poor horse" was alive. You might try asking the same questions about a book or story you wrote that you're not sure is worth saving.

1. Is the heart beating? Does it have heart? Does it move people emotionally? Do people who read it smile or get tears in their eyes? If not, the horse may be dead.

2. Is the horse breathing? Does the story move in rythmn, in and out of crisis and drama, and give you a short rest before the next dramatic situation occurs? In and out. In and out. If it does, the horse is still alive.

3.Does the horse move when you touch it? Or has rigor mortis set in? If the story is stiff and the plot is not moving or going anywhere it might be time to let it go.

4. Check the brain waves. Are they active? Do you have something important you want to say in the story? Do you get your ideas across to your reader? Are they new and interesting?

5. How does the horse smell or feel to the touch? Does your story trigger all of the readers senses?

6. How much do people love your horse? Do your readers attach to your main character and identify with him or her? Does your character grow in some way? But even if you are committed to your story and have a hard time letting it go, remember that sometimes it is more loving to let it go than to keep trying new ways to revive it.

7. Consult with another veterinarian. Get at least three or four readers who like the genre you write and who will be honest with you to read your book and give you their opinion.

8. If the horse is dead, bury it lovingly and then get a new one. Start fresh. Set aside the old manuscript and start where you are now, not where you were years ago. Your writing style and knowledge of writing will have changed and you may well have a different emphasis by now. Trying to edit the same story over and over again will drag you back to your old ineffective way of writing.

If you decide to start fresh you can still use some of  the same ideas but use the points I have mentioned in the questions and your horse will be strong and alive. Ask yourself: Is this new horse a stallion, a mare, a race horse, or a show horse? Are you training it in creative ways? What is the personality of your new horse? Think of Seabiscuit. Where do you want your horse to go? Do you want your reader to have a thrilling ride and to take him to places he had not imagined? Keep your hands on the reins so the horse stays on the right track instead of trotting off on side trails or irrelevant tangents.

1 comment:

Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

What a novel concept! I will keep it in mind. We all cling stubbornly to ideas and don't want to give up on an idea. Sometimes a whole new way of telling the tale will spring to mind and then you just have to give the horse a nudge and it will stand right up again.