Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Revising a Short Story

I’m revising a short story I first started more than two years ago. I got critiques from writing groups on two different versions. I just went back into my file cabinet and looked for the mark-ups from workshop and they’re gone. I remember throwing them out. This is why I (usually) never throw things out.

But still, I was able to remember feedback from the critique. The most important feedback I received from this story was that my climax was too early. There was also a scene that pretty much everyone found confusing and terrible (although they were nice enough not to say terrible). Now, all I have to tell you about this scene to make you understand why it didn’t work was that it was backstory. I thought it was important, but I can see now that it wasn’t. Talk about taking time away from your stories. I removed this scene during the last draft I did (about a year ago) simply because everyone had a problem with it. I just didn’t get what the problem was then. Today I do – it slowed down the story.

When I studied Journalism in college we had a professor that gave us ten cardinal rules to follow. The one I remember is “Don’t slow down the reader.” I have used that in journalism, technical writing, creative writing – everywhere I write.

And this scene of backstory did just that. I thought it provided more character development, but all it did was pull the reader out of the immediate story. It was too clunky. I needed to show what was going on with the character in the present.

So, I started moving bits and pieces around and I think I finally got the order right. I still have too much slow business at the front of the story. But if I cut out the slow business, I will have more room for a perhaps a nice long dinner scene where I can show what the character is thinking, feeling, doing, etc., right now as the story is happening.

I have three different versions of this story on my hard drive. After I did the above revising, I went back to the original version. The story as it stands now is pretty much the same content as my first draft, but without the awful backstory and with the crucial flashback broken up and spread throughout the story, and climax in the right spot. This is an example of writing more than you need and taking away what doesn’t work. It took me a long time to get there, but now I can really see it.

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