I was reading submission guidelines recently, and ran across the instruction “don’t send us your trunk stories.”
After a small detour where my brain imagined story ideas about trunks (car trunks, elephant trunks, steamer trunks, swim trunks…the list keeps going, folks) I brought it back around to what the submission guidelines were really saying: don’t send us your old stories that didn’t sell before. Then I thought: what a load of crock.
I think I could classify almost every story I’ve sold as a trunk story. Most of them went through enough rejections to gain that classification; my latest sale sat for a long time before the submission guidelines for a magazine inspired me to dust it off and send it out. The editor for that magazine inspired me further with a request for a rewrite on the end. If anything qualified as a trunk story, that one did.
I’ll admit I struggled with the decision. Heck, my first reaction upon dusting off this particular story was: what a piece of junk. I still loved the idea, but I’d grown enough as a writer to recognize it wasn’t my best work. OK – it wasn’t even on the top 10 list. I put in hours reworking it with my newer, greater writing skill set. It looked, and felt, a LOT better when I was finished.
So why are editors extorting me not to send them trunk stories? I think the key is the rework. When I got the editor comments back and she didn’t like the ending, my first reaction was to come to its defense. Of course my ending was perfect! She simply wasn’t getting the nuances of the five pages of epilogue I’d left in. How could an audience grasp the fine emotional gradations without the subplot about the little boy?
All of which was nonsense. She was perfectly right – the ending was too long, the point buried in a meandering scene with too many characters and not enough action. I rewrote it, too. But I think the aversion to so-called trunk stories stems from that emotional desire to defend our work instead of admitting its faults. It’s not the age of the story that’s the problem, it’s the emotional attachment to our characters, our plot lines, our ridiculous prose that we labored so hard to produce. We just don’t have the heart to transform those labors of love with cold, emotionless logic.
I was right not to leave the story in my metaphorical trunk. Forget about the trunk. What the editors are really saying is get over yourself and send us the good stuff. And I say you can’t truly love your own work if you aren’t willing to tear it apart and rebuild it stronger, faster, better. You don’t get the Bionic Story without cutting into its skin and upgrading the essential organs.
Look out, editors. I’m sending you my trunk stories. (Lee Majors not included.)