Abandoning a short story project is a difficult decision, especially if you’ve already written quite a bit of it. But, sometimes, it is the best decision to make.
So, since this happened to me the day before I wrote this article (eg: to a comedy/ literary fiction story about late ’00s Aberystwyth that I’d written about 3400 words of), I thought that I’d offer a few tips about when and why to abandon a short story project.
1) Think of your readers: First and foremost, think of the reader. Unless you’re just writing for personal enjoyment, it is important to remember that there will be a reader for your short story and, if it seems like your story might not be that much fun to read, then this is one possible sign that it might be better to write something else.
This is also where reading regularly comes in handy, since having direct experience of being a reader can help you to put yourself in the shoes of your own potential readers. To give you an example, my abandoned story project was written in the present tense. This was initially a fairly spur-of-the-moment thing that just happened when I started writing it. At the time, I thought that it added an intriguing level of unpredictability and immediacy to the story.
But, then, I had to choose the next book I wanted to read. There were two books by the same author – one was written in the past tense and the other was written in the present tense. I read the first chapters of both and then rushed towards the past tense one. It just seemed a lot easier and more “natural” to read. So, naturally, this made me think about the present tense narration in the short story I was writing at the time. I realised that it would probably be really annoying to read, so it was one reason why I abandoned the story a day or two later.
So, think about your readers!
2) When it starts to put you off of writing: Writer’s block isn’t always a good reason to abandon a story project. Sometimes, you need to take time to think about what to write next or to just power through your writer’s block by just writing (and then editing later). Sometimes, writer’s block is merely a small everyday hurdle that can be dealt with without abandoning your story.
But, when even the idea of writing any more of your story feels like a chore and you find yourself racked with guilt about not writing any of it over the past few days, then this is sometimes a sign that you need to cut your losses and write something else.
The important thing to remember here is that you need to keep writing. If a half-finished story is standing in your way and, more importantly, sapping your enthusiasm for writing itself, then you need to write something that makes you feel enthusiastic again before you lose interest in writing altogether.
3) Think of your story as a whole: Following on from the first point on this list, having direct experience of being a reader can also help you to notice when your story is becoming less about the story you’re telling and more about other things.
In other words, when you are devoting more effort to things like showing off, avant-garde gimmicks, personal nostalgia etc… than you are to the characters and plot, then the story might not work out. Again, remember that your story will have a reader.
For example, here’s an extract from my abandoned short story: ‘Beneath the glow of the front window, she can just about make out the scuffed stairs driving down into the darkness below. She has only walked down them once, on a cold October night when the club’s cavernous crypts had been decked out in cotton wool cobwebs and styrofoam tombstones. When the lights were as lush and vivid as a heavy metal music video and no-name goth bands wailed in the corner.‘
Although this one little extract might sound good on it’s own, imagine a whole story filled with these slow-paced and alliteration-filled passages of purple prose. Imagine a whole story where these are the main point of interest, with not much of a plot, lots of rather corny “comedic” dialogue and not that much actual characterisation.
Each of these individual descriptions were fun to write and I felt pretty clever every time I came up with a contrived way to use alliteration and/or rhyme during the narration. But, when I stepped back and looked at the story as a whole, I didn’t see that much of an actual story (that people would want to read), just lots of pretentious prose poetry.
So, think about your story as a whole. If, when you take a step back, it looks less like a story than you expect, then try writing something else.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂