Unearth Your Archive Of Fiction Stories

Fiction stories and novels buried in an archive.Most writers have fiction stories from years ago that have since been abandoned to the dark recesses of a desk drawer archive. Some stories never made it past the opening lines, others were just a few chapters away from their dramatic conclusion. While some stories are best left hidden away, others can be revived and fashioned into more exciting plots.

If your current ideas aren’t inspiring you, go digging through your old files to find treasures you may have forgotten that you have! After years have passed, you can read over your partial first drafts with a fresh eye, as if they were written by someone else. Once you find a story that still has potential, read it over and look for areas that can be crafted into a new short story or novel.

Mine the Introduction

Most writers have the peak of their enthusiasm within the first chapter or scene of their story. Introductions bring the first characters and plot points into main focus. It is possible that your characters are incompatible for the story you put them in. A confident, powerful businesswoman may not belong in a sleepy Midwestern town when she’d shine in a bustling city. (Then again, she just might, providing a marked contrast. Your story may vary.) When you can extract characters from a weak plot, you can transfer them to a more exciting storyline.

On the other hand, your plot may shine, but your characters just aren’t interested in seeing the story through. They may be flat and lifeless, and not yield any additional information when you try character building techniques. It may be time to send those characters on their way, and give the story to more enthusiastic protagonists who will care about what’s happening in the world around them.

Dig into the Heart of the Story

For lengthier abandoned manuscripts, it can be harder to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. Characters seem to get minds of their own, going off in unexpected directions and wandering away from the story. Plots can weaken and meander, to the point where even you don’t know what is going to happen next.

While many writers prefer the excitement of an unplanned route, others need a solid plot outline to bring their story and characters back on track. Write out an outline of the plot so far, and see where the story is actually heading. If it is workable, then you can revive that story and get back to writing. If not, see what needs to be cut, rearranged, or expanded into new avenues. If you’re at a loss, use a mind map to free associate possibilities for your plot.

Carve Into Your Words

An abandoned story will need a lot of work, and you will need to put on your editor’s hat for awhile before getting back to the writing. Ruthlessly cut into your story, removing anything that is not serving the plot. You can literally do this with a pair of scissors and a lot of tape, or you can cut and paste within your word processing program. If you don’t want to toss out perfectly good writing that just doesn’t fit, put those unneeded phrases into an idea file that you can go over later.

Have you revived an aging story? What ideas do you use when called to rework an unfinished or finished manuscript?

Photo Credit: Orcmid

Why the Client is Always Right

Anyone who’s worked in retail knows the adage, “The customer is always right.” That credo often makes retail workers cringe. I’ve worked in several bookstores and most people wouldn’t believe the customers we had to accept as being “right.”

I can cite hundreds of examples of abused return policies, mis-read signage where the customer received a discount anyway, and complaints where the customer was clearly wrong, but the manager made right. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

The policy is not an excuse to act as a doormat, but it provides a good guideline for knowing when to cut your losses. In other words, is the bad PR worth the money we’ll save by not making the customer happy?

The words “bad PR” make me think of the recent Southwest / Kevin Smith debacle. Director Kevin Smith was kicked off a plane for being “too heavy”, and escorted out of a seat he clearly fit in. He was right; Southwest was wrong. But even if it was a close call — even if he had to struggle to get that armrest down — Southwest would have been smart to let it pass. Smith had been a passenger on the airlines countless times previously, flying with no danger to himself, the other passengers, or the plane as a whole. Southwest, known as the friendly airlines, has spent years and millions of marketing dollars building a good reputation for itself. Was it really worth it not to let Kevin Smith — a customer with a powerful voice and a lot of social networking cache — just be right?

For Freelancers, Clients = Customers

When you are a freelance writer, your clients are your customers. What are some instances in which the client is “right”, even if it may not seem like it?

  • When the editor changes your work in a way you may not approve of, but it is still factually and grammatically correct. Every editor has his own style, and publications typically fit the editor’s style. If the editor changes something, and it’s not how you would have written it, leave it alone. If you want to know the rationale, ask politely. But don’t argue.
  • When the client changes his mind about what he wants, and expects you to do more work as a result. Unless it’s specifically written into your contract (and you should have one for this reason) that you charge for re-writes, you should do the work. The client will appreciate that you went the extra mile, and you’ll get return work. If the client makes a habit of changing his mind after the fact, you may want to consider ending the relationship.
  • When you write to the client’s specifications, but the client just isn’t happy. I know a lot of writers disagree with me on this point, but I like to use this analogy: If I go to a hairdresser and I leave looking like Ronald McDonald, the hairdresser better fix it — for free. If I take my car to a mechanic and it’s not running well when I leave, I want him to make it right — at no charge. Doctors are probably the only professionals who can get away with not doing their job correctly the first time and then charge for repeat visits… but writers don’t have to live in fear of malpractice lawsuits, either.

Contracts Make it Clear
Again, the policy that the customer is always right isn’t designed to force professionals to act like doormats. Having a contract that clearly outlines what you will and won’t do for the given fee prevents misunderstandings, endless re-writes and wasted time. A contract helps ensure the client receives exactly what he paid for.

I don’t charge for rewrites and, in rare cases when a client is not happy, I will re-visit my work until it meets their specifications. I have many repeat clients, including editors I’ve worked with for more than 15 years.

If endless rewrites or complaints become a problem, I simply stop working for the client or publication. .. and I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened. In some cases, because clients know I will rewrite with a smile, whatever the circumstances, they offer to pay me for the additional work. Again, everyone is happy.

As writers, we are service professionals. The number one goal of a service professional is to provide good customer service. That’s at the heart of the “client is always right” philosophy.

What are some instances in which you’ve accepted a client being “right” because it wasn’t going to hurt you, even if you didn’t agree? When have you had to put your foot down?