Writers have a tendency to leave entire worlds forgotten in the dusty corners of closets or computer files. Whether the abandonment is caused by writer’s block or just a new idea coming along, some stories can wait for years to be rediscovered. Personally, I have dozens of pieces that sit in six binders in a box under my bed. Some are over 100 pages long, and others go all the way back to my middle school years.
The characters within these binders will occasionally nag at me, demanding that their stories be resurrected. This often forces me to dig through my binders, desperately looking for a specific tale. After reading it over, I am usually convinced that improving upon it would be incredibly easy. After all, I have become a slightly more accomplished writer since then.
So, I take out a fresh notebook, start writing and…end up staring blankly at the page, wondering what the hell I thought I was doing and wanting to crumble everything up and toss the mess in the trash. Whether it’s because of the plot or characters or something else, I simply can’t seem to reconnect with the spirit of the story.
I’ve found that trying to get inspiration from these old stories is possible, but can present a challenge. From this conundrum, I’ve come up with a list of ideas that will hopefully allow you and me to work a bit of literary necromancy and maybe bring some of our pieces out of the graveyard and into the spotlight.
10 Ways to Bring Your Story Back from the Dead
Create an Outsider
- Try adding a character from another piece –or just a character that doesn’t seem to belong- into the heart of the action. How does everyone react to the presence of the outsider? Why? How does this change affect the character who was torn from their home? Do they become a hero or a villain?
- This exercise can not only give you insight into your characters, but also gives you the ability to examine what might be missing in the plot of your resurrected tale. Think about the roles these characters play, and how this disruption changes that for better or worse.
Open at the Close
- Write the climax or ending of your story first. It can be what you’d originally planned, the worst-case-scenario, or a new idea you’re tempted to try. Now, look backwards. How do you imagine your character’s relationships developing over the course of your story? What kinds of scene have led up to this point?
- Not only can this be a strong tool for looking back, but you might find a new place to begin your story, or a spin-off tale. I’ve used this before, and it gave a lot of ideas about where I need my characters to go, and how to tweak their personalities and attitudes in a way that kept everything from seeming forced.
Do the Twist
- Throw in a plot twist with whatever amount of ridiculousness you please. How would a character react if their home is suddenly burned down or robbed? What if a side character is actually a con artist and has been manipulating everyone the whole time?
- Twists like these can really up the stakes in your story. It can push characters to their limits and move your plot in unexpected directions. It can also simply give you something to throw in when you get stuck, pushing you to keep writing. If this appeals to you, try keeping a list of all the “what ifs” you come up with so that you can quickly choose one when you need it.
Use a Magnifying Glass
- Pick a scene, any scene, and amplify its importance. Blow up every single detail, every emotion, even write it in the form of a lyric poem if that’s what suits you. What do these details say about your characters or your setting? Do they reveal a secret even you didn’t realize your character had? Are there areas where you need to develop more information?
- Details can provide a piece with a lot of nuance. They can also hint at subplots, or make character relationships more clear. Of course, there is such thing as having so much detail that the rest of your story suffers, but feel free to go crazy the first time around. You can always edit it out later.
Change the Scenery
- Try changing the setting of your story, starting with one scene. What happens to your characters and plot when you move a story or scene originally set on a prairie in the 1800’s to New York during the heart of the Great Depression? What happens if you switch from High Fantasy to Suspense, or from a High School Drama to a Dystopian War story? How would these changes affect the stakes?
- Even if these changes don’t work out, they can help you understand why your setting is so important to the plot or characters. It also looks at what aspects of your characters are integral to their personalities. If you find yourself always writing in one genre, this allows you to expand your skill set.
Look Through Another Lens
- Try using a new point of view (POV) in a certain scene. Try switching from first to third person or vice versa, and see how this changes the tone of your story. How would a bystander judge your characters’ actions? What’s going on in the mind of a supporting character when your hero is making a stupid decision?
- All POV’s have their strengths and weaknesses. In a story I wrote with a friend during high school, we wrote several pivotal scenes from both the main character’s and her love interest’s viewpoints, including their first kiss. For first-person stories especially, this exercise is useful because it forces us to consider why others react to our characters the way they do.
Make the Past into Prologue
- Think about what event have transpired that have led up to your story’s beginning. How did your characters meet each other? What has happened that your main character may never learn about, even if it will directly affect their lives? Write out some of the scene you imagine, or examine how knowledge of some of these facts could affect your character’s behaviors and allegiances.
- I am a huge fan of complex backstories. By closely examining more than just your main characters’ histories, you can understand what the “bigger picture” may be, as well as the possible nuances in a character’s relationships. I think that this is especially important for your antagonists, since they must have some kind of complexity to them in order to keep your story from feeling flat.
Break it Down
- Look at all the pieces to your story. Examine your characters, your plot, your setting, and start finding the pieces that appeal to you most. Try to pick out several different things, like part of someone’s backstory, or a particular scene, or a character quirk that you find compelling. These parts are probably the things that lured you back to this piece in the first place. Look at the weaker parts too, places where your piece may be lackluster or unclear. Is there a way that you could shuffle some parts around or combine or remove them that could help pull you back in?
- This exercise can provide you with some encouragement when you’re starting to think that you’ve wasted your time on a bunch of crap, while allowing you to pinpoint areas that need some work. This provides you with the start of a roadmap towards reviving your story, so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Bring in someone else
- Have someone else take a look at what you’ve dug up, maybe even let them take a stab at rewriting a scene or guessing where the plot is going. What questions or suggestions do they have? Have a discussion about the piece and your intentions for it, and write down any ideas your partner may have so you can look back at them later on.
- Fresh eyes always bring something new to a piece, even if it’s just the realization that there are some things in your piece that you absolutely will not change. Sometimes, it just helps to verbalize your ideas for something, since it forces you to really organize and evaluate your thoughts.
When All Else Fails, Let the Sleeping Dog Lie
- Let’s say that you’ve spent weeks trying to bring a piece back from the dead, and maybe even made a bit of progress. Sadly, you’re stuck once again, wondering why you thought that it was a good idea to try in the first place and maybe even hating me for saying that it could be done. My advice? Put it away. Not back in the graveyard where you’ll forget about it again, but somewhere where you can make an appointment to revisit it in a week or two. That way, you can take some of the pressure off of yourself and explore other projects. Giving your brain a rest can do a lot of amazing things for your creativity, possibly leading to an “a-ha!” moment that gives you another stepping stone toward completing your story.
Where are some places you look when trying to find inspiration? Have you ever found a hidden gem in some of your old work? Share your responses, questions or other thoughts in the comments below. You can also tweet me with @SpunFromInk or e-mail me at SpunFromInk@gmail.com.
If you want to see some of these tips in action, click here.
Lot of love,