Is It Ever Too Late To Save A Story?

When I came across the ten to one story, I knew I had to try it for myself. That set me off looking for similar writing exercises and I found and completed another three. Lots of you joined in too and it was great to see the variations in interpretation and ideas.

The lovely blogger, JC Wolfe, who first alerted me to the ten to one story exercise, also told me about a book called ‘What If?’ by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. It’s chock full of writing exercises to help hone your skills and covers all areas of fiction writing from plotting to dialogue and characterisation. I found an exercise in there that is similar to the ones I did previously and which I know some of you might enjoy having a go at.

This is what you need to do.
Two characters
Two objects
An adjective
An abstract word

You then write a short story, or begin a longer one, using these elements. It’s an exercise in using your imagination and seeing where it can take you and I quite like the freedom of that.

What also resonates in this book, are the sections that get you to look at a story you’ve already written. A recent discussion involving the What I’m Writing group made me think about whether you can save a story that you think may have reached stalemate. One of the exercises I found asks you to take a story that seems stuck and true to the title of the book, asks you to write the words ‘What If’ at the top of a blank piece of paper. You then write five ways of how the story could be continued (from the stuck point) and using these ‘what if’ scenarios. JC Wolfe’s blog has regular ‘What If’ lists that could help you with this. Again, the idea is to let your imagination run free.

Another idea to look at a story that isn’t working is to break it down in to it’s component pieces. This is for the visual people, of which I am one and involves lots of paper and a place to lay everything out in front of you – scenes, narrative passages etc. When you look at your story like that, you can see if there is too much of one thing and not enough of another. You can also rearrange scenes to make changes to the story. I guess you could do this on Scrivener too, but I like the idea of being able to physically pick up and move things. I’ve done something similar with a story that is currently filed away and waiting for me to get back to one day. I put every scene on an index card and ordered them all up in to chapters. All I have to do is finish writing the story now!!

It may not be that the story itself has gone wayward, but the central character themselves. An exercise on characterisation from the ‘What If’ book asks you to look at the motivations of your central character. What do they want and why? Is this made clear to the reader in the story and how is it put across to us? What stands in the central character’s way and what desire does that set in motion?

I’ve been re writing a story in order to save it. To do this I ended up changing the point of view as well as making tweaks to the plot. The changes have been for the better and I do believe it’s helped. I didn’t want to bin it after spending so long on it and I’m sure that it’s possible to save any story with a bit of re-working.

Finally, I would like to share one more exercise with you. I can’t remember where I found this one though, so I can’t give credit to anyone (I’ve looked at that many). If you do know, perhaps you could tell me and I can add it in. This exercise involves taking a book (any of your choosing) and at random, finding the first line of one chapter and the last line of another. You then write a short story, using these two lines as your beginning and your end. If you like a challenge, this one is for you.

I’m sharing this for What I’m Writing.

Writing Bubble

18 thoughts on “Is It Ever Too Late To Save A Story?

  1. This is pretty creative and challenging! Maybe I’ll try it someday when I have the time πŸ™‚ It might help me save a lot of my old stories from ruin. I did try this once and took a story written by my 16 year old self, sprinkled some fairy dust over it as an 18 year old and that won me my first short story competition πŸ™‚


  2. I never discard anything I’ve written-it means I have a ton of drafts on my hard drive though! But every so often I’ll revisit and find that there’s more to like than dislike about a piece, which gives me confidence. I’ve yet to try a writing challenge however.


  3. I like the sound of these challenges – I may give one – or both – a go! I also think it’s great to rediscover old work and breathe new life into it. I suspect that even when we feel we’re hitting a total wall with writing and that there’s no hope with a certain piece, when returning to it months (or years… or decades) later we can see its potential. I’m still wanting to return to my hilariously bad teen romance at some point! Thanks for the inspiration and for linking to #WhatImwriting xx


  4. “I didn’t want to bin it after spending so long on it and I’m sure that it’s possible to save any story with a bit of re-working.” I totally hear you! I can’t stand to see a short story, or anything I’ve written linger in a drawer. Editing and tweaking is definitely the way forward πŸ™‚ Thanks for your useful post.


  5. Lots of useful tips! I have a lot of discarded writing and some of it from many years can’t ever be revisited I think. I just feel embarrassed reading it. But perhaps everything has the potential to be recycled and I should get over my own awkwardness and consider it again. I like the sound of these writing exercises, they sound a bit brain achy – but fun!


  6. Oh my word Nikki I need this book so badly! Just ordered it and yay for Amazon Prime, it’ll be here tomorrow. Thanks hon πŸ™‚

    The first and last line of a chapter exercise sounds good, will try and give it a go…


  7. Sounds like a great book. When I was still teaching and desperately wanting to write I found exercises like this great for getting the creative juices flowing without having to commit too much to a story!

    I like the ‘what if?’ scenario for saving something you’re deeper into too… I definitely think I had points like that whilst I was writing my most recent novel… However well you plan something there are certain impasses that need a little extra oomph to get you past them!


  8. The exercises sound like a great way to flex those writing muscles. My mid length story skills are somewhat lacking so an exercise could end up being yet another bad first draft for me.

    I do like the what if exercise and use a form of this in my writing where I explore thoughts relating to the story in my journal. They done have to make sense, they’re a dump of everything I’m thinking about the book.


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