How to Make an Old Story New
“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.” ― Judith Minty,
It happens to everyone. We start with a vengeance, earnestly tapping away for as long as the ideas flow. Then, life gets in the way. We promise ourselves we will return to finish, even going so far as to keep the story open as a reminder, but time and time again, the day goes by and we didn’t even peek at it.
It’s so frustrating! It’s even worse when we finally go back and… lose the flow of the story. We forgot where we were going with it, and even our outline (for those of us who have them) is no help. Or… our super special original idea falls flat, and the story doesn’t flow like we thought it would. Whatever the reason, that delete forever button is oh so tempting.
But wait! We wouldn’t throw out the clay because the pot won’t form a perfect circle. No, you’d smash the clay into an unformed ball and start over again. Your stories are worth the same treatment. There’s something good in that story, I promise you. It may not work the way it is now, but all it needs is a new life, a new direction. And I’ve got just the thing.
Metaphor vs. Simile
Sometimes just changing the way you approach your descriptions can breathe new life into an old story, opening a speedway of new ideas in your mind. One approach is to change your similes (comparisons) to metaphors (direct tie between 2 elements).
For example, this line from one of my stories could be written two ways:
It allowed only her eyes to show, deep and piercing blue waves on stormy waters.
Her blue eyes like crashing waves on a stormy sea were the only things he could see.
In this example, the first instance is a metaphor. It packs a punch, adds depth to the character in creating the direct tie between her eyes and a stormy sea. There’s no getting around it, and it is more memorable. In the second example, the simile is easily forgotten, lacks the oomph of the first sentence. Not only is a metaphor more rewarding for your readers, but it is also dangerous because its a commitment vs. the out that a simile provides.
How does this create a new flow for the writer?
Creative thinking. Stepping outside the box to make a more profound statement. Just by changing the simile to a metaphor could offer you a new view on your story and turn your dried up well into a riveting, spouting fountain.
Adding layers or depth to your story is another way to revive your imagination and get things moving again. You don’t need to go overboard, but adding some complexity to a part of the plot—taking one aspect of your character’s story and building it—can awaken your muse.
Here’s an example from a story I haven’t finished called “In Time.” This is one story I need to breathe new life into to get it going again. This is where the story began:
Viola kept looking at the bracelet on her wrist. It had an owl head that flipped open and the band was intricately designed. To this day I still have no clue to exactly what as under the owl head. I just know it played a key role to the events of the day.
Three airships filled the sky; the skull and crossbone flags flickering in the wiind left no doubt as to who they were. From my position on the platform I could see the engineer peering from his window. I felt the lurch of the train as it increased speed. There was no way we could outrun the pirates.
As popping and booming of guns firing filled the air, I turned to Viola, wanting to protect her. She stepped back, pushing me closer to the railing and the hail of bullets persecuting the platform. Pain seared through my shoulder, into my back, my legs. Heat grazed my neck and I felt liquid oozing.
I reached for Viola, only to be met with a sneer. She stepped further away.
“I’d kiss you goodbye, but I don’t want to get blood on my dress.”
Here, I have a prominent supporting character telling his story of how he met the protagonist. In order to get back into this story, I needed to add some layers to this part. I made a new scene focusing on that owl bracelet:
“You see that man in that flyer?” She nodded. “I want you to kill him.”
“And what if I don’t want to?” Viola answered, finding some unexpected strength. She started to rise from the table, but Nieve planted a hand on each shoulder and shoved her back down. Viola started to rise again, only to be shoved back down into the chair again. Nieve’s hands lingered on her shoulders this time, and Viola stopped resisting. The woman’s face loomed up to the forefront of her mind again, but she didn’t have time to dwell on it. She understood it as a warning, and she heeded it.
“If you want answers, you don’t have a choice in this matter, now do you?” Father Lee said. Viola didn’t think it was possible for his smile to get any more sinister, but it did. “Now, listen carefully, because I will not repeat it again, nor will I take any responsibility if you get caught. The first thing to do is to remove that ghastly bracelet.” He pointed at the black velvet on her wrist.
“No. Remove it. The owl is all you need.” He paused long enough for Nieve to snatch the bracelet from Viola’s wrist. He pulled out his own pocket watch, a compliment to the rib cage style that Nieve had. He flipped the cover open then did the same to the owl on her wrist. He stepped behind her, and leaned over her, his arms almost in an embrace. He held his watch face by the one on her wrist, and she felt a pulling. The movement of the clock hands left small shocks and vibrations on her skin, but still he didn’t release it. A small shock emanated from the watch and she jerked her arm away in shock. “Good. It is done. That watch is your guide. That small shock you just received will be repeated each time the next action needs to be completed. Should you fail in your task, that small shock can become a very big one, and let’s suffice it to say that you wouldn’t like that very much, hmm?”
Her anger quickly rose as he proved his point by giving her another shock, this one large enough to singe arm hair. He’d anticipated her reaction and before she could do anything, a smaller shock entered her body, and she fell to the chair, unconscious.
“Well, she fell like a deck of cards, hmm?” Father Lee whispered. Louder he began talking again, issuing out the orders that she would need to fulfill, brainwashing her to do his bidding. He knew her power and intended to exploit it.
Writing this new scene opened up a new door of opportunity for me to explore within the story. I actually went on to write quite a bit more on this story from this short piece. I didn’t need to include everything, just enough to whet my imagination. Sometimes, that’s all you need to do.
[bctt tweet=”Got #writersblock? Add a new layer to your story. #writerslife” username=”theauthorSAM”]
Cut Out Excessive Words
How would cutting the fat from your story get you writing again? For one, it requires you reading your story from the beginning, which is usually a good way to get back into it. When you do, consider what the story is about. Do you really need 3 adjectives to describe the smile on someone’s face? Does the smoothness of a railing have enough to do with your story? Probably not, unless you intend to have someone go flying over that railing and the current character is investigating its sturdiness. Once you’ve established something, you don’t need to refer to it in every new instance. If you’ve established your character has a temper, you don’t need to explain that she has a temper each time a tantrum flares up.
By cutting out the unnecessary, it changes the state of your mind. It changes from the “I can’t write” mode to the “Ooo. I’m in writing mode now!” which is all we really need to jump start our writing session.
Stop Telling the Story
We all hear “show, don’t tell” constantly. Sometimes, stopping to show instead of tell can jam us up too, but if it’s a matter of switching from a telling to getting into the scene, this is a very beneficial way to combat the inability to write. I’ll use another one of my pieces as an example.
He felt a wet substance under his arms and trickling down to his feet. The iron smell of blood seeped into his nostrils, and he knew that the blood was not only his own.
Felt and smell are two indicators of telling. In order to fix this, I need to get back into story mode, think over what this part is supposed to be about, and get myself back into it. I close my eyes and “become” this character, opening my mind and utilizing all 5 senses to bring this to life.
Wetness trickled from under his arms to his feet. A metallic odor permeated the air. Plenty of blood had been spilled here, his the freshest.
Now that my mind is opened, and I’ve successfully managed to convert this passage, I am ready to write more.
And here’s the part of the article where I remind you to read. While you probably don’t want to fall in the “write what everyone else is writing” category, taking time to research (and read) what’s currently hot can pay off. This is especially handy around a holiday, and sometimes, even building a trope into your story is a sure fire way to revive it. For instance, in the first story sample I shared with you, not only is it a steampunk, but it contains robotic characters and even a vampire or two. When this story began in 2012, vampires were the current trope of the time. Jumping on this bandwagon and running with it added a whole new dimension to this story that really did give it new life. I went from struggling over what to write next to foaming on the bit and letting the words fly. As dismissive as we can be over current trends—choosing instead to focusing on originality, and “writing what we want to read”—adding a little current flavor can ramp up our writing from ho hum to running with the wind in moments.
When you stop writing long enough to read, the words of another author’s story worm their way into your brain, and take on F5 proportions to stimulate the words you need to get back into writing, to refind your way into this brilliant work of art you started eons ago, and lead you up the staircase to something new, something better… a living story.
What tricks and tips do you have for getting back into your story? Have you tried any of these? Did they work? Let us know in the comments!