Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Question: Should You Rewrite Every Trunk Novel?

My friend Joe and I were talking about rewriting old trunk novels. He's in the middle of redoing several books he's already finished, and me...well, you know me. I've done several rewrites with various results.

It got me thinking. There's trunk novels I've written that I still love, despite how broken they are. Every book really does teach you something, and if I didn't love something about it, I wouldn't have written it in the first place. I look back on them fondly, but realize that no amount of revision would save those books. If I ever wanted to unearth the premises and characters, I would have to start from scratch.

But should you?

Is it really necessary to rewrite every good idea you've ever had? A certain amount of reusing old ideas is going to happen no matter what, so parts of those books will live on. But maybe at the end of the day, it's necessary to let go of an idea, a setting, a group of characters, no matter how awesome they are, and move on.

I don't think I'm going to redo every book I've ever written. Sometimes you just have to put them in a trunk and call them done. It's sort of freeing, when you let it go like that.

What do you think? Would you go back and redo every good idea you have, or just let them be training wheels?


  1. Training wheels, but that being said, there is something that I love doing with trunked novels... I love trying to see if I can stick two of them together, the crazier the better. Sometimes it works (in my mind at least), and sometimes it's good for a giggle.

    1. That's actually a really cool idea Rena! :D I should try that!

  2. If an agent hadn't requested them, I would never have taken on rewriting successively three previously written novels. It's exhausting. And to be honest, it's kind of stifling to my creativity. I have all these new ideas, but I'm still wading through ideas I had and wrote three years ago.

    I've now rewritten 2 of the 3 novels requested, and I don't think I'll do the third. When I first offered these mss, they weren't trunk novels. They were previously completed manuscripts, which I think is different. The third one, however, is a trunk novel. It is something I wrote that is not good enough and may never be good enough. Better to toss it in the trunk and focus on new ideas.

    That said, does that mean I'll never rewrite it? That's a bit more murky. It depends on how much something can change before rewriting becomes writing a new story and stealing bits from an old one. I love the characters in my trunk novel. I LOVE them. I love the setting. But the story is representative of a quality of writing I have since surpassed. I could put a lot of elbow grease into trying to pull that story up (and it may not be able to be pulled up high enough) or I could devote that time to new storytelling.

    It takes a critical eye and a lot of self-awareness (humility?) to throw a novel into the trunk. It requires an equal amount of restraint to leave it in the trunk once it's there.

    1. I agree there's a big difference between a previously completed manuscript and a trunk novel. To me, as you said, a trunk novel is something that doesn't represent your skill currently. A book you completed previously, is, well...just that. Personally, I think rewriting counts if you're keeping a significant amount of the material, whether it's the characters, and/or the setting and plot. If it's just a bit here and there, then that's just repurposing old ideas, IMO.

      And I agree: it really shows the amount of improvements you've made to be able to take a critical eye to your old manuscripts and made judgement calls on them. :D

  3. I think deep down you know when a book is trunked, as in broken beyond repair for whatever reason, and shelved, as in you know something's missing and you don't know what.

    The first are dead in the water. You can fix a lack of desire to give a crap or a flawed premise or an old-feeling book. (There are several YA paranormals I wrote pre-TWILIGHT that I, personally, like, but could never hold up in today's paranormal market, because what was high concept in 2001 isn't anymore in 2013.)

    The second you can work with. If the premise is good, and you still connect with the characters, and you still can't get the story out of your head, there's probably something there. And it's always possible that what you didn't know then you know now, or know more about now, enough to fill in some of those holes.

    The thing is, you have to really want to tell THAT story. REALLY want to tell it, like, more than anything else, to the point where if a new story came along, you would say, Sorry, but I'm taken, I owe it to this old story to give it everything I've got.

    Because what happens is sometimes, instead of coming up with a new idea, which can be scary and challenging, they look to old ideas and try to fix them. Not because the story can be fixed or because they know how to fix it or because they love it so much, but because it's easier than coming up with something entirely new.

    That's my take, at least.

    Mwah! Miss you!

    1. Er, that should be CAN'T fix a lack of desire, etc...

    2. I agree! You have to really want to rewrite it, to the favor of writing something new. And rewriting can be it's own form of procrastination. That's an excellent point too!

      Mwah! I miss you too! I hope you're having fun working on your writing and playing with those kitties!

  4. I have a some that are trunked (we will call them my learning curve) and those will stay trunked. I have others I have re-written from scratch. More commonly, however, I take scenes or characters traits, or even confrontations that I loved and found a way to work them onto a new ms. That way a bit of the old novel stays alive while a completely new ms is born.

  5. Trisha: I find myself doing that more too, taking pieces of old books rather than the entire books themselves. The two books I've rewritten, I rewrote because I finally found the right way to tell the story. All the other trunk novels will stay in the trunk.

    Thanks for commenting!

  6. I have two trunk novels. One won't see any more work; it was all training wheels. The other one, however, may get unpacked one day.

  7. I suppose it depends on a number of factors. One of my friends is reworking her Icelandic saga (I've not read any version of it) after going to writer's conferences last summer and seeing much more enthusiasm for that than for her mystery. (Though that has prospects, too, iirc.)

    I don't have a trunk novel. Short stories galore, but novels were too big and scary back when.;-D