Writing Excuses 4.33: Trunk Novels

Recorded live at Dragons & Fairy Tales, this episode is for anybody who has a novel or two (or more) sitting in the bottom of their trunk. What are the best ways to re-use old material you’ve set aside? We talk about rewriting entire novels, repurposing plots or characters, and moving stories from one place to another.

Sometimes we do this because an idea is just too good to let sit, but the execution on that idea (at least the first time around) wasn’t good enough. And sometimes we shouldn’t do it at all.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Feed by Mira Grant – it’s 1/3 zombie novel, 2/3 political thriller.

Writing Prompt: “Interspeciated workplace.” Go!

Prompt #2: You just got a “Cease & Desist” from a webcartoonist…

Audience Noises: Delivered on cue, thanks to cleverly positioned signs…

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23 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 4.33: Trunk Novels”

  1. Hey, trunk novels! That’s a great topic, thanks guys. I know most writers have some, but I was floored to find out Brandon’s Mistborn ideas had once been mothballed because I am a big fan of the series. I always enjoy hearing about things that didn’t work out the first time around. It’s nice to hear first hand from the writing gods, that they were once humble mortals like the rest of us.

    Psst. Brandon, I would love to read a book 2 of Warbreaker. So if you are ever short of ideas…

    Another reason I liked this topic was that the book I am currently working on was something I had tried to write about five years ago when I was in high school. It is turning out much better this time and I am happy with it thus far. One thing I completely agree with is their advice about killing your darlings. Some dead characters from the past should stay dead. It’s kind of like burying fish in your garden. They won’t smell any better if you dig them up a few months later.

    Anyway; loved the show, I’d write more but I just got a “Cease & Desist” from a webcartoonist…

  2. Keep in mind that Mistborn was actually two trunk novels that Brandon combined together, so don’t feel like you have to stick too closely to your original work when you rewrite. 🙂

  3. Heheh… It’s like you people KNOW I’m trying to rewrite. xD First time ever too, and I did not allow my breathing time… Whoops. :p (Double points since it was last NaNo’s novel. xD)

    Still, this was nice! If only cause I learned that WoK is coming out at the end of the month (Just in time for school to have started! xD) and Dan used to do fanfics! And that it was useful. That’s VERY nice to hear. 😀

    Oh, and the tidbit about Mistborn, that’s awesome! And gives me hope. Especially since that rewrite I mentioned’s main reason for existing is I suddenly wanted to add two new magic types, really one new system, into my story.

    Yeah. So I think you guys are long-range psychics/empaths. O-o

    …Which would be awesome if I keep getting relevant podcasts! xD Now I can’t wait for next Sunday~ 😛

  4. @ Matthew Whitehead

    Yes I heard that, not only was it a two trunk novel but apparently a lot of other bits and pieces from other things he had written and tossed in the trunk. I have been inspired to combine various story ideas since I heard the season 1 episode 2 podcast about blending odd and common ideas. It can be a lot of fun to take two unrelated story ideas and try to rewrite them into a single story.

    @ Celia
    They do know what you are doing, computer monitors work both ways and they can see what we are doing… So you may want to stop doing that 😮 Ha-ha.

    Wow, I just had an Idea. What if the UFO crashes like the one at Roswell and other places around the world were intentional? The aliens knew we would be able to reverse engineer their technology and we would use it to build devices that they could use to monitor us in preparation for the big invasion.

  5. I have a couple things I’ve needed to rewrite to make any more progress on them, but I’m not motivated or patient enough because I have better stuff piling up on them. That’s why deadlines are so helpful…
    This November is going to be my first ywp Nanowrimo and it’s all because of you guys. XD

  6. Great topic! Loved it. Good warning too. I’m surprised that with the instance of “Joshua” (I didn’t hear a last name) that they didn’t do substantial work to rewrite them to make them relevant for his current ability as a writer.

  7. How do you know when to trunk a novel? I recently finished two novels (w/ revisions), then went back and did the second draft of a novel I’d never revised. I could rank them 1-2-3 by how much I like them, but I don’t tend to be a good judge of my own work. The oldest novel is also YA, and I don’t really plan on writing YA again anytime soon.

    I also saw the title of this podcast, and felt like someone had been reading my brain. I’ve been trying to decide how many of these I should try to be submitting at once (submitting takes time, and that’s time I’m not writing).

  8. Yes! This is pretty much the perfect podcast I’ve been looking for. This is pretty much exactly the sort of stuff I’ve been struggling with trying to figure out lately about a couple semi-written novels I have sitting around. You guys rock, as always.

  9. Thank you so much for this podcast. This perfectly addressed what I have been wondering about recently. The closer I get to finishing my current work-in-progress, the more I think that it might be a ‘trunk novel’, so it’s good to hear the proper way to deal with this type of novel.

    The whole idea of burning the trunk after publication sounds intriguing and yet frightening. I’m still too attached to those darlings to think about them going up in smoke…

  10. I’m really hoping my first novel (still in progress) doesn’t become a trunk novel. It probably will, though. Thanks for the advice of what to do with it when I move on. As always, I loved the ‘cast.

  11. It seems I had three trunk stories (just very short stories — not novels) from a long time ago. No longer had hard copies of them but I remembered one quite well. A few months ago I rewrote it with some serious modifications.

    On Monday I submitted it to Reading Excuses (my first submission). This pod-cast was NOT influential in that decision as I had already rewritten it and already planned to submit it before Sunday night.

    So I wondered about my other two trunk stories. It seems they have disintegrated. I looked in the trunk where they were stored (my head) and it was empty.

    I’m not sure that came out right??

  12. Since Dan’s been sharing so much about his short story lately, I’m just curious, was that conversation with the editor about a major theme (what it means to be human) related to the western horror short story or to Project X or Extreme Makeover?

    I know in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, but it did leave me wondering. I really love the concept of being able to revisit those themes that really resonated in the early years once you’ve learned the skills to give them a framework that will actually do justice to them.

  13. I would never burn my trunk. David Gerrold mentioned a few times about how an idea that failed one project worked better in another setting. His Starhunt started off as a Star Trek novel that took itself into a new direction, for example. I may never use the trunk ‘as interred’ but ‘waste not, want not’ would apply here to some extent IMHO.

  14. First, I really appreciate what you guys are doing here. Being an aspiring author, I find the advice really helpful. I wonder if you guys have done a podcast on how to write for multiple genres. I’m not really inclined to just pick one and be stuck with it. Also, is there any advice for someone who actually plans to go into a field in which being a published genre writer would come across as, well, ridiculous? Will I have to resort to a psuedonym?

  15. Soooo….put all your eggs in one basket? As long as they’re good eggs…..and roughly the same color… and not too old…

    I disagree with burning the trunk. Ideas are precious and if they don’t inspire you when you need them, maybe they’ll inspire someone else.

  16. Trunk novels, or in my case hard drive novels because I’ve never printed out an entire manuscript, is a cool topic to talk about. Lots of really good ideas end up not working out for the current project and end up going into that special folder on my hard drive and then burnt to a CD. Number One Rule of Computers, Always back stuff up.

    Anyway, I find myself digging through my old stuff quit often to salvage bits and pieces or look up old ideas I’ve had that combine well with a new idea. I think it’s so cool that the Mistborn trilogy came about this way. Information like that is so inspirational to me. I hope to be a published author one day and I can use all the advice I can get from people who are already busy doing it. Thank you so much for having this podcast and comments page. I think I will enjoy digging through your archives looking for nuggets of gold.

  17. A perfectly timed podcast; I am another person trying to re-envision last year’s NaNo attempt, and I’m having a lot of trouble letting go of the parts that I know don’t work, but are so integral to my idea of the story. I may end up scrapping the plot (for now at least) and doing something else with the setting, since I think the worldbuilding and magic system are pretty strong but my current story is pretty disjointed. Coming up with good, long-term plots has been one of my weakest points since I began writing, but this podcast gave me some good starting points.

    Another note re: posting earlier, less skilled works to the general public: I love it when artists in any medium do this, because it lets the beginners out there in the world now know that the artists they admire were once just like them. Whenever I read one of Brandon’s much earlier stories or drafts, I get an incredibly comforting sense of “hey, he made the same mistakes I make, and struggled with some of the same things I struggle with, and he’s an amazing writer. If I really work at this, I might be one day too.” Many of the anecdotes from this podcasts have the same effect.

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