Most writers have “trunk stories”: stories that made their rounds to publishers, never were picked up, and are now stashed in a literal or electronic trunk, never to see daylight again. I never like fully trunking a story, but still, I have stories that I haven’t done anything with in years. De facto trunking, if you will.
One such story was something I wrote for my first fiction workshop, freshman year of college. It was a straight-up dragonslayer story called “What It’s All About.” A mercenary, a barbarian, and a kid enter a dragon’s lair to slay the beast, the mercenary, barbarian, and dragon are killed, and the kid survives through dumb luck. It was fun to write, but obviously the work of a beginner. The protagonist didn’t deserve to triumph, the plot had zero twist, and cliches grew like weeds (cue laugh track). Apparently, publishers weren’t interested in such a tale, so it sat in an untouched folder in the guts of my hard drive.
Fastforward to about two years ago. I decided to mess around with the old story, see if I couldn’t jiggle something interesting, if not saleable, from it. I told the story from a new point of view, flip flopped who would be protagonist and antagonist, and added some fun layers of detail that jolted some intrigue into my plot. I started submitting the story again, this time under the title “The Seventh Trap.”
And it found a home, an anthology called The Big Bad, which is now available. The theme of the anthology is bad guys, and I think “The Seventh Trap” fits in well because dragons are always the bad guys, and my story has a little fun with that stereotype. It’s still a straight adventure fantasy story, but with enough depth and twist to make it a worthwhile.
The Takeaway: Just because a story was unsuccessful in the past, there might still be something to it. Sometimes, when a creative dry spell hits, drag something out of the darkness, dissect it, and try to reanimate the pieces.