3 Ways to Resurrect an Old Story

by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

It’s seldom discussed, but most writers must get a lot of bad writing out before any solid storytelling begins flowing from us. As we grow, we see our own development and tend to discard the stories we worked on earlier in our journey. While our writing style may have left much to be desired, it doesn’t mean that there were not some gold nuggets in the midst of the carnage we rightfully discarded. Some of our best ideas may have emerged before we started thinking too much about our writing.

Before you burn old scripts or cast them into the outer reaches of your hard drive, make sure there are not elements you want to save for later when your writing has matured. If you’ve been writing for a while, go back and look at some of your early work. Are there ideas that still hold charge for you? Here are three ways to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

1. Resurrect the Character

Perhaps you had created a fascinating character but just didn’t know what to do with her. Perhaps she represented a large part of who you were at that time in your life. Characters can embody truth that transcends description and words. Your character might still feel like someone you want to explore and live with for a while. Developing a strong character can be one of the most difficult things to accomplish in all of storytelling. If you were able to do that but just couldn’t find a journey that worked, reviving that character later — after you’ve developed better plotting skills — can lead to powerful storytelling. Remember, Wonder Woman scripts floated around Hollywood for a long time before someone was able to execute a plot worthy of such a powerful character.

2. Resurrect the Plot

Did you know that the plot of Die Hard was written as a sequel for Arnold Schwartzenegger’s Commando? Or that Oceans 12 was originally developed as a project called Honor Among Thieves before having its plot brought over to the successful Soderberg franchise? Sometimes, we have a great idea for a story but our characters aren’t the best fit for the narrative we are constructing. This could have been the case with some of your early stories. Most of us can recognize when we stumble on a simple yet effective plotline to build a story around. The magic occurs when we are then able to execute that plot with characters that keep the audience interested in the story. Even if an entire plot is not workable, there may be elements of that can be salvaged from a script that was discarded long ago.

3. Resurrect the Concept

Your characters may have been flat. Your plot may have been overly complex and confusing. However, that doesn’t mean that the original concept for the story you were crafting wasn’t worth developing. Our abilities at executing a script usually get better the longer we write. It’s quite possible that you just didn’t have the chops to tackle the killer idea you had in the early days of your screenwriting career. Dusting off the concept, then adding fresh characters and a better structure to hang the plot on, might make all the difference. James Cameron had the concept for Avatar before he made Titanic, but he knew he didn’t have the skill set or technology yet to accomplish his vision. Putting a script in a drawer for a while may not be a bad idea, as long as we remember to get it back out when we have developed the necessary abilities to pull it off.

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John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S.  Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.

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