How to Breathe New Life Into an Old Story

If you’ve been writing for a significant amount of time, chances are you’ve dropped a story idea that you enjoyed at least briefly. Maybe you’ve gone back and looked at it since and thought it was garbage, but there’s an equally decent chance that there have been pieces of it you’ve thought are really interesting. After all, something had to grip you when you first wrote it, right? So maybe you have a really cool setting, but flat characters. Or maybe the premise is good, but your prose is cringe-worthy. How do you salvage the good and leave behind the bad?

Identify what’s good about  the story

You can’t save an old story if you don’t yet know what’s worth saving. Do you like the characters? The setting? The overall premise? Bits and pieces of everything? Maybe you even have terrible prose in most places, but there’s one paragraph of awesome description that you want to keep. Make note of everything you like about the original, so you can utilize it when you revive the story.

Once you have that list, make sure you know what’s weak about the good parts so you can make them even stronger. Do you have characters with awesome personalities and backstories but no goals? A premise that’s really interesting but lacking focus? Make note of these weaknesses so you can improve them as you plan.

Identify where you’ve grown

Maybe it’s been only a few months since you dropped this story, maybe it’s been five years. Either way, I can about guarantee that you’ve grown in some way since then. See if you can identify in what areas you’ve grown, so that you can play to those strengths when rewriting this old story. Have you gotten better at writing organic dialogue? At developing characters? At plotting? Use these new strengths to build a stronger story.

Determine what made you stop in the first place

At what point in the story did you peter out the first time? Why? Were the characters dull? Was the setting under-developed? Did you run out of ideas for where the plot could go? Figure this out and make note of it so you can focus on fixing that in the planning stage.

Make a plan

Start with the strengths you pulled from the original story and build off of that. Fill in the gaps left from cutting weak characters or scrapping a flat setting, and expand on what you do have. Plan just like you would with a new story, with the benefit of having extra starting material. Ask yourself questions (and answer them), develop your characters, plot, whatever works for you.

Write!

In most situations, I’d suggest starting with a blank slate and producing an entirely new draft. Depending on how old and decrepit the original story is, however, you may be able to get away with simply editing the pieces you wrote before and starting from there. I’ve used both methods. For me personally, starting over is generally more effective because I don’t have the same beginning and I’m less likely to fall into the same rut as before, planning or no planning, but do whatever works best for you.

Happy writing!


Have you ever gone back and revamped an old story? How many story beginnings do you have gathering dust in the depths of your computer files? (It’s okay; I won’t judge. I have >90 myself.)

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7 thoughts on “How to Breathe New Life Into an Old Story

  1. Great article! I have plenty old stories filed away in dusty corners and some of them I hope to sometime resurrect! I’ll definitely be reading this post again to help. Thanks! :)

  2. I have way too many old story beginnings 😂 but this is inspiring me to go look at them again!

  3. Oh, boy, I’m gonna need this post eventually. I’ve got a huge series that I want to go back to someday. Got a ton of books in it, though very few were ever actually finished before I set it aside. From 80K unfinished books to completed 30K stories…yeah, it’s a mess. But I hope that once I get other WIPs off my plate, I can return to Char ne Rayft…

    1. I have a series like that, too. I’m working on rebuilding the world surrounding it while I finish other WIPs to make room for actually rewriting the books. (Hopefully that will work and the books won’t just be buried again…)
      Good luck with your current WIPs! I hope you’re able to get back to Char ne Rayft relatively soon and make it stronger (and finished. ;) )

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