It’s time for a special theme here at Author Interview Corner. Below you will see several different authors answer one central question. Maybe you can compare their responses and learn something from them, or maybe you’re just reading this for fun. Either way, I’ve asked these writers: Do you have any unfinished stories?
(Remember to keep scrolling and check out ALL the authors!!)
When it comes to unfinished stories, I have a folder full of them on my computer. Some of the stories are a few pages long and others were just an idea that may have spawned a few paragraphs but never lead to anything more than that. My brain is always throwing possible story ideas at me, and while I try to get to all of them, most end up in my “Brain Dump” file.
The one unfinished story on my desktop that taunts me is the zombie novel I started last year. It’s sitting at approximately 40K. I was making great headway with the novel, but then life got in the way and it was pushed aside. Now, when I open the file, I’m not really sure where to begin. I figure I’ll have to start from the beginning and go through it as I wrote it the first time to reacquaint myself with the story and the characters, but yes, my goal is to finish the novel this year. The story is laid out in my head, now I just have to get it on paper.
In my writing world, the reasons stories end up incomplete are mostly due to the fact I am easily distracted and I have terrible self-discipline when it comes to writing. I have to make sure I’m setting (and achieving) daily writing goals to keep myself on top of whatever I’m working on.
As I grow as a writer, I am getting better at planning out stories before I start to write them. This helps guide me through to the end of the story, which results in far less incomplete stories. I find having set deadlines (for submissions and whatnot) keeps me on track to get the story finished in time. Where in the past, if I was just writing for myself and for pleasure, the story may be less likely to get finished, since it’s not being written for anything in particular. I work (and write) much better under pressure.
I have two or three unfinished stories, but it doesn’t bother me. How do I know I won’t complete them eventually? Sometimes, I have an idea for a great beginning or climax to a story but not for the rest of it. It doesn’t matter. If I write it down and save it as “Title” (in progress) and it stays like that for a month or a year, it’s no big deal. Maybe, just maybe, the inspiration it needs will come to me when I least expect it, quite possibly while I’m working on another story. If not, we can rest assured that all writing is good practice and every sentence you form advances your art. Even if you end up deciding to abandon a story, it’s conceivable that you could still salvage an eloquent sentence or descriptive passage for use in another piece one day.
An example of an unfinished tale of mine that is waiting for inspiration right now is one in which the members of a religious sect are handing out pamphlets to commuters as they exit a suburban railway station. Nobody seems interested, until a young man accepts one. He looks at it briefly as he continues walking home before scrunching it up and throwing it in the bin. He is blissfully unaware that the couple has followed him and that they’ve read more into his casual acceptance of the pamphlet than they should have. The tale was to end with a tense encounter… as simple as that. If I had finished it that way, it would have become a short social commentary rather than an actual story and I wasn’t satisfied with this prospect because of a desire to maintain coherence in my opus. The plot is generally the driving force behind my fiction, even if social commentary plays an important role, so I wanted this piece to achieve the aim of telling a story rather than just making an observation. Also, I’ll ultimately want it to fit comfortably into a future collection. Therefore, I’ve decided to let this particular story “incubate” while I work on more pressing pieces. I may finish it one day or I may not. In the meantime, I have plenty of other tales begging to be told.
As I think of ideas, I find it easier to start a story. I might get in a few lines or maybe a couple paragraphs. Good stories shouldn’t be rushed, so I generally have five to six unfinished tales stowed away on my hard drive. I have never yet left one alone. I have totally rewritten a couple after mulling them over for months and sometimes they have been in limbo for a year. I’ve always came back. My story Flesh & Blood sat for six months being no more than a paragraph and then was finished in a short time. We as writers must breathe life into our characters and make them believable. Of course it might be easier to blow out mindless fare that the genre is quickly choking in, but I believe in depth of characters and emotions in a tale.
Probably the one I am having the biggest issue to date is a story about a young man having a sexual rendezvous with an obese woman and things go just wrong. I am handling it with kid gloves so it doesn’t seem like I’m mocking anyone or anything. All I know is since I spent the time to begin it, I will see it through to fruition. Whether it gets published right then might be a different story.
We are a parent to our work and need to nurture each tale, for they are part of us.
I have over a half dozen unfinished stories. Some have many chapters written, some only have a couple… some are simply detailed story-lines. I’ll pick one I started last year: Atlantis Falling.
I started the novel to explore the Bermuda Triangle and it kept expanding to include Atlantis and other myths. I stopped writing it because fans of my novel TIME ASSASSINS were screaming for a sequel. I wrote the sequel and got involved in one, then a second novel (which I’m writing now). I will finish Atlantis Falling, but it’s going to be a few years. Honestly, it got so big and crazy with all of the myths and supernatural stuff that I got lost in it myself.
I also have stuff I wrote thirty years ago, some of my very first stories. Thirteen chapters into a novel with no where to go. It’s good stuff, but that is one I truly don’t know if I will ever finish.
I have one that just received a huge revamp: kept the basic premise but changed the entire story. That is next on my list after my current WIP. So yes, you can go back and finish books years after you start them.
My advice for aspiring writers? Don’t give up. Write every idea down, no matter how small. When you find a story you’re passionate about, write-write-write!!! If you lose that passion, step back, work on a short story, then come back to it. Always, always, always, go back. Revamp, rework, rewrite…but never stop.
My unfinished story? The idea came from a dream that I had constantly. In the dream I’d either be standing outside or in a car with friends. Everyone in my dream besides myself didn’t have a face. When I looked at them, all I saw were white spots as if someone took a paint brush, dipped it in white paint, and proceeded to mask their identity. The sky was always clear; no sun, no clouds- nothing except for a plane.
I was always the first to notice that the plane was descending. I cried and shouted to everyone around me, telling them to run for their lives, but no one would listen to me. So I took off running and every time I turned to look over my shoulder, the plane was moving in quick. My dream always ended before the plane hit the ground.
I’ve been told to write about it, so one day I actually sat down and spent about four hours, trying to gather everything and lump it into a short story. However, I just couldn’t finish it. I don’t think the idea is too crazy. It’s just that the “filling” for the story never flowered in my mind. I just couldn’t piece it together. Plus, I had too many unanswered questions… ones I just couldn’t answer. I wanted to know why the airplane headed straight for me and why no one in my dream had a face. What was so important about that airplane and would readers believe it?
The story is somewhere in my closet, collecting dust. When I dream about the event again, I have this urgency to return back to the story, but that usually disappears after a few hours.
I started writing fiction about halfway into my second year at college. I’d been re-reading The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which I still consider to be the single greatest literary work in the history of Life, the Universe, and Everything) and wanted to do a somewhat more serious version. The novel (which I christened The Drifter’s Perfection, as titles are not my strong suit) would involve a hapless alien hitchhiker becoming embroiled in a plot to rewrite reality as we knew it. There would be exotic locations! Existential speculation! Derring-do and intrigue! I didn’t think much about details; I was just overcome by the heady excitement of creating something new!
Three years later and I’ve managed to eke out about three chapters. Part of the reason, I think, was that college exposed me to a lot of new ideas and ways of thinking, and I was eager to apply what I learned to my writing. Plus I was impatient; it hadn’t yet occurred to me the time and dedication it would take to even get started as a writer. I began reading a lot of stranger stories, subjects of the New Weird and Bizarro subgenres. I marveled at the seemingly infinite variety of ideas I saw. I doubted my own creativity. So with a humbled yet determined spirit, I decided to put the novel on hold to work on short stories and explore what I could come up with.
Looking back there are still some things in the novel that I like, so maybe there is some hope for it. But even if I never finish it, I’ve definitely learned a lot about writing since I started it. I’ve been gradually edging towards my own unique style, and I’ve finished at least half of the ideas I set out with. If there’s any advice I could give other prospective writers, it’s this: cherish the small victories. Even a little progress is better than none.
I started writing a story about myself. I had been through so much in my life; I figured it would be an interesting read. I ended up writing a few chapters. As I was writing, I thought of all of the people who may be affected, so I let the story lay there for awhile. After a few months I went back, and continued to write more. I was still worried that people would feel hurt or embarrassed once their business was in a book. One night I saw this movie about a writer who was doing a story on his past. The people in his life read the book, and it created so much pain for everyone. After seeing that movie I decided I should not finish writing this story. There is a piece of me that wants to still write it. I think it would help anyone going through what I’ve been through, but then again it would hurt other people. I am torn. Is this a book that needs to be finished, or just a story that needs to remain untold? I am not sure if it will ever be fully written. I guess time will tell.
I have more unfinished stories than I should admit, but there is one that definitely sticks in my mind as it was the first novel I ever tried to write. “Tried” is the key word. I had this clunky old typewriter (yes, I’m that old) that I carried around everywhere along with a backpack full of paper. I only made it a little over 100 pages before dropping the idea altogether, but I found the stack of paper a few years ago and gave it a read. I promptly filed in under “B” for BAD. Seriously, there’s a folder in my filing cabinet with “B” for BAD written in black sharpie.
So why is it so bad? Well, besides it being the first novel I ever tried to write, the story is quite ridiculous. Backstory time… I used to live in Florida, and for those of you who have never been, I will share a secret: there are cockroaches. Everywhere. Call them palmetto bugs all you want, they’re still cockroaches. Did I mention they’re everywhere? Anyway, one day I walked into my kitchen, and even though it was super-clean (OK, super guy-clean at least) I saw a huge cockroach that flipped me off before scurrying under the fridge.
16 cans of Raid later, I found myself sitting on the floor, high on fumes, talking to this monstrosity and wondering why Cocky wasn’t talking back (I named him Cocky). Maybe it was the bug spray, you never can tell about these things. During this conversation, I found myself wondering how freaked out I would be if he did talk back. So I did what any self-respecting early twenty-something wannabe-writer-type dude would do…I grabbed a can of Hamms and started typing. What followed was 100 pages of utter nonsense, but I found myself chuckling the whole time. Even reading it years later I laughed, but it was a sad sort of laugh, the kind you let out to stop yourself from crying.
Okay, it wasn’t that bad (yes it was), but even after all this time I still find myself thinking about it. I wonder what would have happened if I had continued the adventure, with Cocky and I traveling to Egypt to find his long-lost sister in law’s pet chinchilla. Yeah, you read that right. You don’t wonder why I stopped writing it anymore, do you?
I started a story last year that is unfinished, but there is hope for it. I will definitely finish it. Right now, I’m trying to finish this one story writing as my pseudonym, Sapphire Phelan, for my publisher (it is the third novella in a trilogy), then got to finish edits on my finished 85,000 plus Young Adult Paranormal Romance (under my own name, Pamela Kinney). The story I will go back to is a supernatural thriller, with a cursed land, paranormal investigators and all. Got stuck on it.
There have been other unfinished stories, too, like this third novella for the trilogy. Been a year since I wrote a few words for it. Now it’s almost 32,000 words. There have been others that took a while to write: a weregoat fantasy short story. I finished it—now if someone would take it.
I almost quit on a story once. It was this short urban fantasy story, wrote by me as Sapphire Phelan. A few words, then I couldn’t do it and left it for three years. When Under the Moon was looking for submissions for their Forbidden Love: Bad Boys, I went back to finish that story. This time, it worked and I finished it—all from the guy’s POV. I called it “Soul Seduction.” My editor said most women writers can not do a romance from a man’s viewpoint and I did it well.
My advice for writers who are struggling to finish a story? Just leave it alone. Come back to it later. You may find that you can finish it. You just need to detach from it to give time for the story and time for you.
For Pamela K. Kinney:http://fantasticdreams.50megs.com
For Sapphire Phelan: http://www.sapphirephelan.com
Thank you to all the authors who responded! This was fun!!