Monday, December 1, 2008

Does your story have legs?

I have writing friends who meet a roadblock in a short story they’re writing and sit for days struggling with how to get through to the end and I always wonder - why? Why waste all of that time looking at a blank page? This doesn’t happen to me because I believe either a story has legs or it doesn’t. Why would you force a legless story to walk? It doesn’t make sense.

I might start a story with a perfect sentence that developed in my head over night, or the most fantastic paragraph ever put down on paper, and then nothing. Nothing. There is nothing else I can write. Many writers might stop there, clean the page with the press of ‘delete’, and start over. Again I ask - why? Why waste those bits of good writing? When it comes to my words - I’m a saver.

If I get to a point in a story where I can go no further, I immediately stop and save what I’ve done. I give it a name and place it in a folder called ‘story stems’. Then I go on to another idea. If I get to the end of that one, the story has legs; if I get to a road block again, that story joins its friend in the story stem folder and I start again.

But don’t jump to the conclusion that the story stem folder is the graveyard for good bits of writing. The story stem folder is the mine to dig from when your brain is not forthcoming with new ideas and the muse has taken an unplanned holiday. I go back to the story stem folder and check if any of those gems have managed to grow some legs during their time out. I pick one, mess with it a bit, and see what happens. Those story stems can surprise you! Once leg-less story stems can grow into perfectly lovely stories with quite sexy, workable legs and I have the stories to prove it.

So- Save all good writing - let that be your new mantra!

Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time writer living in Botswana. She writes radio and TV scripts, short stories and novels, magazine articles and newspaper stories… well - basically anything that comes her way. She blogs at Thoughts from Botswana, starting from approximately the same basic premise.

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  1. Thank you for a fresh perspective. I certainly have more "story stems" than "stories with legs". I'm making a new folder for the story stems today!

  2. Don't forget to send some of your good "stems" to Penny Dreadful at ... we decided authors can add their own names if they so choose. We'll also have a blogroll that links back to your website.


  3. I like the idea of having one folder for all the "story stems." I tend to have a folder for each book I'm working on. A central folder makes sense.

  4. I think my mind has now trained itself to think only in terms of lengthy novels. Any idea that sticks in my head for longer than a couple of days grows very long legs indeed, very quickly. I have several 10 page+ synopses patiently waiting their turn in folders.

  5. I write novels instead of short stories, but I save everything, even chunks or scenes that I cut out of stories that go on to be published. I also have a folder of "story starts" that range from 3 pages to 100 pages. I'm hoping that 100-page story start has grown more than legs by now.

  6. I'm a saver also. If I need to take something I like out of a story because it doesn't fit, I save it for future use. Sometimes it comes in handy later.

    On the other hand, if I'm having trouble with a manuscript, sometimes it means I'm being lazy and I have to think it through more and not give up.
    Morgan Mandel

  7. I started a novel several years ago and ran out of steam. After picking it back up a couple of months ago, I've expanded the first part from 5,000 words to over 25,000.

    That stem has bloomed more than I imagined possible and convinced me to be a saver.

    Of course I also have two old Samsonite suitcases crammed full of musty-smelling manuscripts, letter, diaries, journals, etc that I may need someday. :)

  8. Yes, saving comes in so many packages, even smelly old suitcases!

    I am editing one of my 'wallflower novels' (no one wants to dance with them- shame) and have taken out two whole chapters of writing I love, but after five years of holding on to them I have realised they were at least part of what is stopping the dance. I have saved them hoping that they might grow legs that carry them to their own publishable place. Fingers crossed!!

    Shelley- I must say I am very inspired by your story. I do think our brains just get sick of the idea and giving it time it kicks back into gear.

    Marilyn- I'm so happy you've found my idea helpful.

    Elsa as L.J. has shown this method works even for novels.

    Morgan- I also agree that sometimes we need to bang away at it to find our way through. I do that too sometimes.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.