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.”

Welcome to Experience Writing 2021

Where There Are Tiny Dinosaurs In Trees (2020) bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

Attempt at Focus

This year has one main writing focus and that is revision. I will be revising my novels one after the other. I will be revising my short stories and my poems. I will find ways to stay motivated during revision. I will explore revision tools, workbooks and worksheets and find what works and doesn’t work for my process along the way.

There will be events like National Poetry Month in April, OctPoWriMo (October Poetry Writing Month) in October and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, but other than that, this site is about revision this year.

If you are an author or poet (or both) who would like to share your revision process, or tips and tricks let me know in the comments, or send an email. We can schedule a guest-post or an interview.

The Revision Experience Begins

Planner Pages

I thought I had given up on my planner pages, but then I wanted to start setting up my revision goals. I took a look at the revised pages I made for December 2019 and thought they would work nicely. After some quick revision, I offer what I’ll be using this month. If you are interested in looking back at my planner for writers project, it started back in February of 2019. Just click on the month in the archives (column to the right).

The file is set up to be used in OpenOffice. I decided to leave the deadlines blank this time, so you can focus on the deadlines that most interest you.

Here are the sites I usually look at when I’m researching deadlines:

I liked the prompts and the format of these planner pages. I also like the more achievable goal of three submissions a week. I look forward to your feedback on the pages and hope you find them useful.

To start my short story revisions, I chose twenty-one of my short stories and put them in one PDF without titles. My goal is to attempt to read through them on my tablet as if it is someone else’s collection and choose my ten favorites for revision.

I purchased Cat Rambo’s short story revision class and look forward to taking the ten stories I choose through her paces.

I’ll talk more about organization and preparation tomorrow. I wanted to get the planner pages out today, so you can start using them.

#WriterinMotion Week Two: revision plan

WIM A Storys Journey Banner Week Two

For once, I overwrote. I have a story that needs to be told in less than half as many words, so I thought I’d spend a little time and create a plan for this first revision.

This Week’s Revision Plan

First steps:

  1. print out the story
  2. read aloud
  3. highlight best lines/parts
  4. cross out parts I don’t like
  5. ask questions to get to the core of the story
  6. write logline/ elevator pitch/ summary
  7. increase conflict
  8. explore possibilities
  9. re-write

Questions to get to core of story:

  • Who is this story really about?
  • What does that person want more than anything?
  • What is in the way of getting that desire?
  • How will she overcome the conflict?
  • Was the desire, once achieved, really what she needed?
  • How has the ordeal changed her?
  • Why is this story important?
  • Why do I want to tell it?

Next steps:

  1. Repeat first steps 1-4
  2. focus on opening line: try at least ten other possibilities. Have I drawn the reader in with a whisper of everything to come?
  3. focus on ending: try cutting last line, last paragraph, try adding a paragraph or two to find real ending. Have I left the reader wanting more; feeling something, thinking?
  4. focus on dialogue: are the voices unique? dialogue as tight as possible?
  5. focus on setting: does every description do double duty (mood, symbolism, character development)? Is every object there for a reason? Have I described for the reader what I see in my head, really put it on the page?
  6. focus on characters: play with unique, concise descriptors (think pessimistic moustache). Does each character jump off the page? Can the reader relate to them, empathize with them?
  7. focus on the senses: have I created vivid experiences using all five senses? Are there sounds, smells, textures, tastes as well as sights? What associations am I trying to elicit in the reader with these choices?
  8. focus on sentence variance, sound and rhythm
  9. focus on sentence clarity: am I really saying what I mean to say?
  10. focus on word choice: strong verbs, specific nouns
  11. hunt for and remove over-used words
  12. hunt for and remove clich├ęs
  13. print out and read aloud as a final spell-check, specifically for homonyms and other small errors computers don’t catch.

 

Looks like an overwhelming amount of work, but I have a week and many of the next steps will be revisited over the next few weeks of revisions as well. I’ll probably add to this list as I work. I hope you find it helpful. If you have revision checklists or processes that you would like to share, feel free to add a link in the comments.

Happy Reading and Writing!