Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Lost Story

Seven years ago I sat between my kids' beds and told them a very sweet story. A story that held the soft tha-thump, tha-thump of a beating heart ready to fall asleep.

That bedtime story became a play which won a developmental opportunity at a theatre. For anyone not familiar with new play development, that means I had a director, actors, theatre space, two dramaturgs, elementary student feedback, and theatre professionals feedback while I wrote and rewrote feverishly for a week, working the play on its feet. All expenses paid.

But when I was finished, I hated my play. It a word...AWFUL.

Somewhere, in the middle of rewriting and advice and work and ideas, I lost my story.

Looking back now I can see multiple influences on my muck of a play, but the largest was a choice of my own. In my desire to perfect my play, I spent so much time listening to everyone else's feedback telling me how to do it I forgot to listen to my story. I twisted and turned it into something it was not and while, technically, it makes sense, the heart of the story is gone.

And here is a hard, honest truth: every writer loses one story. Maybe more.

They take in a comment, an idea, some advice...because conventional wisdom says that's what rewrites are about...and even though their instincts tell them not to listen, they ignore the warnings.

Don't think I'm not a rewrite person. I'm a ten-draft girl who works on computer and paper. I scribble and scrabble my ideas until I understand every choice each character makes. I read aloud and act out scenes. I try things on and take them off faster than clothes in a teen store dressing room.

I'm also a believer in holding the heart of your story close, because you are the one telling it.

I may never get my seven year old story back. I am extremely, rock in my stomach sad when I think about it.

But I still work on it. And when I do I go back to the beginning...because that's when it still had a beating heart.

What have you lost?


  1. Great post, this is something that I'm worried about with my story.

    I'm currently re-drafting an MG contemporary fantasy and had to laugh when you said you worked on PC and paper, read aloud and acted it out - at least I'm not the only one!

    I have two readers and they're both great, they get my work and look for different things. One is a grammar, syntax, continuity checker and the other - a story flow, and character evaluator.

    The thing is I tend to use pretty much all of their suggestions, and I'm wondering if I'm falling into the trap of taking any advice I get, I don't want to lose my story.

  2. This is beyond true. I butchered my first novel trying to make it into a story it wasn't. Since then, I've learned to trust myself first, and a handful of other people second and third and fourth.

    Great post.

    Sorry about your play. :(

  3. Great post, Deni. Too bad I can't seem to figure out what I wanted from my story in the first place. *sigh* I hear what you're saying though. Thank you!

  4. Thank you for this reminder. I'm in the midst of revising my manuscript and I want to make sure I don't lose my story.

  5. I'm still trying to figure out how to reply to each person individually!

    More to come in the next post about HOW to keep from losing your story...

  6. As if I needed something more to worry about. I am in the throws of editing my first two novels, and I hope I never have to go through what you described. My wife is one of my best sounding boards for ideas, plot twists, etc. and I certainly hope it stays that way.

  7. Ian-don't stress out about taking their suggestions...if you trust them as readers and yourself as the writer, and can see how their suggestions contribute to the story you'll be fine.

    Elena-I'm sorry about your first novel, too:( But I think it's one of those bumps everyone has to go through at some point.

    Casey-You'll find it...just keep listening.

    Mary-you've already got an awareness...enjoy the rewrites!

    Ben-don't stress about it:) Do you have other readers that you trust outside of family members? The tricky thing is: family members know you. So who reads your writing from the outside, as if they just picked up your work on a shelf in a bookstore?