Not Good Enough: When to Trunk a Story
Posted on September 3, 2021
by Aeryn Rudel
Recently, I went through my WIP folder and realized it was overflowing with stories, some of which had been languishing there for decades. I took a good, long look at these derelict shorts and flashes, and, well, I then created a trunk folder, which was long overdue. I moved some forty stories into this trunk, and I thought I’d talk about why I banished these pieces to literary purgatory. The reasons primarily fall into three broad categories. Here comes a numbered list!
- Juvenilia. These were the the easiest to excise from my working folder. They’re old stories, some as old as twenty years, and represent a stage in my literary growth and skill I have long since surpassed (I hope). They’re just not good enough, and many were written in a style I have thankfully abandoned. (I’m not longer trying to sound like H.P. Lovecraft with a thesaurus.) There might be one or two decent ideas here, but I’m not sure they’re worth the time and effort it would take to disentangle them from the dreck.
- Good concept/meh execution. This is an interesting group because many of the stories here are intriguing from a conceptual standpoint. The problem is the execution is lacking. Some of that has to do with writing a story I didn’t quite have the chops to attempt yet. That happens, I think, to every writer. You come up with a great concept, but you just can’t write a worthy story around it. It might be just that the idea hasn’t fully formed or that you might have bitten off more than you can chew at this stage in your writerly development. For me, there’s a little of both here.
- Meh concept/solid execution. There are more recent stories, and they are competently written, but, holy shit are they well-travelled ground. There are, uh, a lot of gangster/vampire/zombie stories in this group, and though I think it’s just fine to write these kinds of stories, you better have an original take if you want to publish. There are not that. Predictable, cliché, or just, you know, meh. So into the trunk they go.
So what happens to these stories? Will they stay in the trunk folder forever? Some of them definitely will, especially those in the first category, which are a mix of bad writing, bad concept, and bad execution. However, stories from that second group may yet see the light of day. There are good ideas in there, and when I’m ready I think I can rescue a few. They’ll probably need complete rewrites, but it may be worth doing that at some later date. In the meantime, I’m going to focus on new pieces, the ones I feel are good enough right now. Moving all those other stores to the trunk has cleared space both in my WIP folder and in my head. Feels good.
Do you have a trunk folder? If so, when do you move a story from WIP to trunk? Tell me about it in the comments.
Yes! My trunk folder is pieces I migrated from my oldest computer to the next computer, then the next and next. I crawled into as a writing competition deadline came near, opened the first few, and realized I wouldn’t have enough time to save any of them. They’re stilted, early writing. I had a few unique ideas, but on the whole, realized they’ll all stay tucked there, until some other day.
Funny you call yours the trunk. Mine’s the “parking lot” – where stories go to sit or maybe stay. Either way, they don’t clutter up what’s inside the building (the productive stuff) but they’re always there if I need to grab an old idea. I agree- it’s sometimes not worth it to de-dreck whatever’s good. Starting fresh is sometimes a whole lot easier.
Heh, parking lot. I like that. Though, mine is starting to resemble a junkyard at this point. 🙂