Stillborn Novels (And What to Do about Them)

From the fan-fiction loving high schooler to the serious literary master, almost every writer has a graveyard of stillborn novels. It just happens. Some stories don’t work out. Some run out of steam only a few pages in. Some survive the drafting but fall apart as soon as you begin editing. Some just die on the page. These aren’t novels that still have potential, that could still work. These are books that are very likely completely dead, lifeless, and rotting with old ideas and tired techniques.

I'm afraid a quick fix won't help this time...
I’m afraid a quick fix won’t help this time…

People don’t like to talk about these stories, the ones that didn’t make it. What are you supposed to do with them, after all? Some writers become disheartened after writing so many. Some get stuck on the first one and endlessly try to breathe life back into it, refusing to move on.

Don’t delete these stories. Don’t get hung up on them either. If a story is really dead, then you’re probably better off moving on to something new and alive. It’s better to leave a book in the middle than to force and manipulate a story out of it.

But don’t forget about them. You never know what could happen years from now. I have files from all through my writing career. Finished novels, dead novels, mysterious short stories that I still can’t figure out. Every so often I review them. I look back on my old ideas and see if there’s any way I can still use them in my current writing. O’Malley the poetic side gangster still wins my heart even though the play I wrote him into never came through. The aunt of young wizard David Jones got cut entirely from a book that died later anyway, but I still giggle to myself when I think of her odd brainwashing methods and exquisite housekeeping.

Clearly witchcraft!
Clearly witchcraft!

Some people say you should never delete anything without first saving a copy of it. There might be truth to that. Just because a book dies doesn’t mean that everything in it is still dead. Keep the good ideas and characters, and keep dreaming about it, and they might make a surprising re-appearance later.

What dead stories do you wish you could bring back? Please share your thoughts on stillborn novels and what to do about them in the comments section below. I look forward to reading them!

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