Revising a short story: working through discouragement

Levi says, “Walk away. Don’t force it. Give it some time.”

Because I’m focusing on revision this year, I want to bring you along as I attempt to revise my work and improve my revision process. Hopefully, we can all improve together.

I found a call for submissions that I think one of my stories will fit perfectly, so I’m starting with it. For once, I have plenty of time; the deadline isn’t until May. This is one of my longer short stories and I worked on it for a long time. I have edited and submitted it in the past, but after rejections set it aside. Now, with this anthology call as a goal, I thought it would be a great piece to put through Cat Rambo’s revision class and use as an example for my own revision process.

  • First, I printed it out (double spaced, Times New Roman, double sided pages to not waste paper).
  • Then I read it aloud, trying not to stop for notes, but making some notes.
  • Then I stopped. I hated it. It wasn’t the great story I remembered. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be.
  • I came back and finished reading it aloud, but had to walk away.
  • I was disappointed and had no intention of figuring out how to fix it.
  • I searched the internet for what to do when you hate your story.

You Hate Your Writing? That’s a good sign from Jane Friedman at Writer Unboxed led me to Ira Glass on Storytelling

and Why You Don’t Need To Worry Hating Your Own Work by Robert Wood at Standout Books also talks about Ira Glass’s videos.

Why It’s Okay to Hate Your Writing by Sarah Gribble at The Write Practice

It helped to know that most writers go through this. And happily, I think I’m getting to the other side of the I hate everything phase. What was the magic fix? As usual, there wasn’t one. The answer was time and work. I kept going back to Cat Rambo’s class and trying to get myself to do each revision pass on my story. Finally something clicked, and since then things have kept clicking. Here’s what has worked so far:

My Short Story Revision

1.Major cuts: The first thing that had to change is I went into a flashback way too soon. Though the backstory in that flashback is important to the story, I plan to only use the most important parts and pepper them in later, so for now, I cut the flashback completely.

2. The Character and Dialogue focus: After cutting the flashback, it became clear that one of my two characters was less developed and it was the character I introduced first. To fix this, I journaled about his life before the story, his wants and needs and rather quickly got to know him and his story arc. Then I went through the story and found places where I could add character development.

My characters are opposites in every way, so I want each character to have a distinct voice. I journaled for a while about what would influence their style and word choice, exploring such things as education, socialization, family life, etc. I also decided that both of my characters needed new names, so I did a little research.

3. Setting focus: While exploring my character, I decided that he has a biology degree and works in a Garden center. He would have knowledge of the local flora that would impact the story. This made the specific setting more important. In the first draft, the setting could have been any river in any forest in North America, but after doing some research, I have now set my story in Northwestern California and have specific plants and trees for my characters to interact with.

At this point my draft is so marked up, I can’t read it. I’m going to sit down with all my notes and write a brand new draft from scratch. Hopefully my next read through won’t lead to me saying, “I hate this,” but something closer to, “this has potential.”

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