Now Back to the Scheduled Program . . . Revision: Using feedback to strategize.

It’s been fun taking this art break, but it’s time to get back to what this blog is all about this year: revision. And at the end of this post I have a special announcement. Ooooh, Aaahhh.

Brainstorming Revision Strategies

Since one of my stories placed in its event in the Writer’s Games, it will be published in the 72 Hours of Insanity anthology later this year. I will soon receive notes from the editors. The main reason I find the Writer’s Games worthwhile is that each story receives feedback from three to five judges. Today, let’s look through my feedback and strategize how to approach revision.

The Feedback

During the Writer’s Games I wrote six stories. These are my generalized notes of feedback from all of the stories.

Character Development

  • physically describe the secondary character
  • clarify MC’s relationship and emotional connection to secondary character
  • how character holds him/herself
  • more description and elaboration of characters important to the climax and end of story
  • character should cling to previous beliefs and behaviors before change

Setting

  • consider how descriptions interact with internal logic
  • smooth transitions

Backstory

  • a delicate balance: too much in one story, not enough in another
  • more backstory through character’s internal thoughts, not dialogue

Foreshadowing

  • needs to be more clear
  • character’s beliefs need to be clear at the beginning

My thoughts

As with most feedback, one judge says one thing, and the next says the opposite, but what I listed above appeared to be a consensus, or was something I agreed with. Saving the feedback and giving it time to sit helped me separate my emotional jerk reactions and find useful information. Now that I’ve identified things to work on, how do I want to approach revision?

Revision Strategies

Character Development

I like to leave most of the physical aspects of my characters up to the reader’s imagination, but it appears the readers sometimes need more. I have a couple of tools I’ve collected but didn’t use while writing these stories. I’ll give them a try before I revise.

Exercise 1: Act out how the character walks, stands, gestures. To do this, I will envision that I am the character and walk around the room for a while. Then I’ll act out some dialogue as the character. I’ll video tape myself doing this and see how my movement and gestures change as I become each character.

Exercise 2: Chart the character relationships. For this exercise I’ll put the main character’s name in the center of a page then put the names of the rest of the characters encircling it, then I’ll draw lines of relationship between the characters and write what those relationships are. I’ll journal about how these relationships formed and changed over time, then I’ll focus on the main character’s perceptions of each of these relationships.

I thought the comment about a character not letting go of his/her previous beliefs so quickly was a very good point. I’ll brainstorm ways that my characters can demonstrate that they don’t want to believe their own eyes, and are struggling to find rational explanations before changing their beliefs.

Setting

I thought the comment about description needing to follow the stories internal logic was good. I do tend to explain things after the fact when I should make sure something is clear to the reader before I describe it, or at least directly after, not later in the story. I will be on the look out for places where the reader needs context.

Backstory

The feedback I received about use of backstory is tricky. There’s a delicate dance here that ties in with the work I need to do to recognize when the reader needs more context. I think I will try a couple of exercises to work on this.

Exercise 1: Read through the story and highlight everything I consider backstory. Are there flashbacks? Highlight flashbacks in another color. Are they necessary? What do they bring to the present narrative? Where does the reader need context for a character’s feelings or actions? What is the character’s most powerful memory that influences that behavior? Will it clear things up for the reader to know that, or will it take them out of the present action?

Exercise 2: Print out 5 short stories I like and highlight every use of backstory and flashbacks. When and how was backstory used.

Foreshadowing

Using chiastic outlines ( This article “The Strength of a Symmetrical Plot” does a good job of explaining it and has a great example created by Susan Raab using the story of Beauty and the Beast) has really helped me think about foreshadowing. However, from the feedback I received, it looks like I still have a ways to go. I think both of the exercises I set up to work on backstory will also apply to foreshadowing.

Reading aloud

I have found in the past that having the computer read my story to me has helped with final edits, especially typos. Recently, however, while I was recording myself reading my poems for the pathways project, I found that knowing I was going to record it led to important revisions. I haven’t tried that with a short story yet, so for this revision, I will try recording myself reading it aloud and see what the process of recording myself reading it does for short story revision.

And here’s the Special Announcement!

One of my favorite short story writers, Jacob M. Appel, has taken time out of his incredibly busy schedule to write a guest post about revision for Experience Writing. If you haven’t read his work yet, he has something for everyone. He has published novels, story collections, a poetry collection, essays, and medical articles; he contributes to Writer’s Digest, and so much more. There’s a documentary about him on Amazon Prime Video called Jacob.

Here’s his bio from his website:

Jacob M. Appel’s first novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Award in 2012. His short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the 2012 Hudson Prize and was published by Black Lawrence in November 2013. He is the author of seven other collections of short stories: The Magic Laundry, The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street, Einstein’s Beach House, Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana, Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets, Amazing Things Are Happening Here, The Amazing Mr. Morality, The Liars’ Asylum and Winter Honeymoon; an essay collection, Phoning Home; a poetry collection, The Cynic in Extremis; four other novels novel: The Biology of Luck, The Mask of Sanity, Surrendering Appomattox, and Millard Salter’s Last Day; and a collection of ethical dilemmas, Who Says You’re Dead?

Jacob has published short fiction in more than two hundred literary journals including Agni, Alaska Quarterly Review, Conjunctions, Colorado Review, Gettysburg Review, Iowa Review, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, StoryQuarterly, Subtropics, Threepenny Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and West Branch. He has won the New Millennium Writings contest four times, the Writer’s Digest “grand prize” twice, and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom competition in both fiction and creative nonfiction. He has also won annual contests sponsored by Boston Review, Missouri Review, Arts & Letters, Bellingham Review, Briar Cliff Review, North American Review, Sycamore Review, Writers’ Voice, the Dana Awards, the Salem Center for Women Writers, and Washington Square. His work has been short listed for the O. Henry Award (2001), Best American Short Stories (2007, 2008), Best American Essays (2011, 2012), and received “special mention” for the Pushcart Prize in 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2013.

Jacob holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Brown University, an M.A. and an M.Phil. from Columbia University, an M.S. in bioethics from the Alden March Bioethics Institute of Albany Medical College, an M.D. from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, an M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, an M.F.A. in playwriting from Queens College, an M.P.H. from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He has most recently taught at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he was honored with the Undergraduate Council of Students Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003, and at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City. He also publishes in the field of bioethics and contributes to such publications as the Journal of Clinical Ethics, the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, the Hastings Center Report, and the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The New York Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Times, The Providence Journal and many regional newspapers.

Jacob has been admitted to the practice of law in New York State and Rhode Island, and is a licensed New York City sightseeing guide.

I think you can see why I’m excited. I hope you will stop by Experience Writing this Thursday, September 2nd, to read Jacob’s insights on revision. See you there!

The Planner Experiment: Here Comes March

Here Comes March

I apologize for not getting this out yesterday as I intended, but I did get my story off to 3 Elements Review, so I’ll call that a win.

The Experiment So Far

So far, this experiment is doing exactly what I hoped it would do. I am aware of deadlines ahead of time and able to plan ahead for more opportunities and not feel caught off guard. I am becoming more familiar with hundreds of literary magazines both in print and online. I recognize the titles listed in other writers’ bios. I’m reading tons of short stories, poems and flash fiction and beginning to recognize the work of writers who are published often. It took the whole month for me to start using all of the elements of the daily pages. I was very concentrated on the submissions section at first. I was beginning to wonder if I needed the hourly table, but now that I’m using it, I think it is necessary. Thus, for my own purposes, this experiment is a smashing success so far.

The other aspect of the experiment which is to get feedback from you, my readers and use your feedback to make the daily pages better each week is not as successful. I have received some positive feedback on the design. Thank you. I hope as you use the pages, you will begin to let me know how to improve the pages for you.

Here is my February in review.

February goals met:

I submitted stories to literary magazines

I submitted poetry to literary magazines

I wrote and submitted new stories

I read a lot of short stories

I became familiar with many literary magazines

February goals not met:

The number of submissions was much lower than my goal, but still higher than every year’s submissions in the past. I hope to increase the amount of submissions each month.

The Numbers

Journal Submissions: 15

Other Submissions: 1 grant application, signed up for the writers games

Rejections: 5

Stories Written: 4- 1 short story, 1 flash, 2 micro

Books read: 10

novels 2

short story collections 3

poetry collections 3

craft books 2

short stories in literary magazines: did not keep track

Lessons Learned: a couple of the rejections I received said the work I sent wasn’t a good fit. Getting to know the journal better is the priority, not the deadline. If I really want to submit to a magazine with a deadline I may miss, it’s okay. I can submit next year, or during their next reading period.

Keeping Track Of Your Submissions

As you increase your story submissions, you will have stories submitted to multiple magazines at once. It is very important to track your submissions in a clear and organized way. When one of your stories is accepted for publication, you need to immediately withdraw that story from the other journals you submitted it to.

Create your own submissions tracker: I create tables in OneNote (microsoft office). I have a table for my stories and one for my poems My table has columns for the date of submission, name of the journal, name of the story, date of response, response and notes. I update it every time I submit or hear back from a magazine.

As my list of submissions grows, I may transfer this information to a Spreadsheet, so I can organize the data by story, or date, or response, etc. as needed.

Submittable

These days more and more journals are using the online submission portal Submittable for all of their submissions. Submittable automatically keeps track of all of your submissions through their portal. You can also save upcoming submissions that interest you.

Other Online options

Duotrope

Writers DB

Writer’s Digest Downloadable Spreadsheets

Sonar 3 free download

Triple Tracking Method from Writers Write

Here Comes March

This month is going to be hectic for me. I signed up for the Writers Games, so I will be writing a story a week to fulfill the challenges. I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into, but it should be fun and rewarding. Expect to hear a lot about the Writers Games this month.

One thing I didn’t do last month was keep track of all of the short stories I read in literary magazines. At the end of February, I designed a story analysis sheet that I plan to fill out for each story I read. I should have a lot of data about stories and the magazines that publish them by the end of this month.

New Goals

My main goal for March is to write great short stories. Toward that end I will experiment with my story analysis worksheet, at least three stories every day, and look for  ways to improve my stories toward publication.

The Deadlines:

I’m playing around with a mix of deadlines and reading period openings. Which would you rather see in the month’s deadlines section? Deadlines coming in that month, or future deadlines you can plan for, reading period openings?

The Daily Pages

Please download the month overview pages and these first few pages of March:

2019 Planner March opening pages

I look forward to your feedback. I’ll post a week of pages on Sunday.

Reading

I have a stack of books on hold at the library that I’m going to pick up today. On Sunday, when I present the week’s planner pages, I will let you know about my reading goals for March.

Happy Reading, Writing, Planning and Submitting!