what revising looks like
May 22, 2013
I just finished a short story. “Finished” in this case means I finished one draft, let it sit for awhile, then revised the heck out of it. It will probably go through at least one more of these, since it’s getting workshopped this week. But in the meantime… I spend a lot of time talking about “revision” and how much learning to revise and rewrite helped my writing get so much better. This story is a really good example of how that works and what that looks like.
First draft, page one:
Clicking on it should make it even more legible. So, what do we have here? We have a bunch of stuff that I pretty much barfed on to the page, to put it indelicately. I knew my character’s state of mind, and that’s what I started with, which means this version begins with a ton of description — including the cardinal sin of having the character describe herself while looking in a mirror. I don’t know what I was thinking. All I know is I came back to the story and knew it all had to go. All the information about Louisa? (You see where all that research I did comes into play, yeah?) Also has to go, but since I talk about Louisa just a couple of pages later, I can move this section to there. Present the information when it’s relevant, not when it isn’t. Perfect!
Also, you know how writers always talk about “show don’t tell?” There’s a perfect example here of a place where I should have shown instead of told. So instead of having the first line of dialog be “He’s the heir,” why not include the dialog that leads up to that statement? I can cut the exposition, and more effectively illustrate the character of Alexandra by actually having her speak.
The rest of the changes I made are logistical — making sure the prose reads smoothly, that I’m not repeating actions/descriptions, and that the text flows and there’s nothing that will throw the reader out.
Also, before revising, I spent a few minutes thinking about what I wanted this story to look like. It’s essentially a family comedy with some old-fashioned sense-of-wonder thrown in — I want it be rather fast-paced, “breezy,” so that I don’t run the risk of bogging the reader down. I want the reader drawn in and charmed. That’s what I kept in mind, which lead me to make the changes I did — removing exposition and so on. So, we start with action and character, which is always an excellent place to start.
Second draft, page one:
(You’ll notice I decided not to adjust the title. That happens, too.)
The second draft ended up being just a couple of hundred words longer than the first draft. I’m getting this thing critiqued by some very good writers this week, and I wanted it to be the very best it could before I made anyone else read it — I learn more that way, if I fix the mistakes I know are there first, then move on to the mistakes I don’t know are there. I expect to go through another round of revisions based on their reactions — did they have the reading experience I wanted them to have? Did the story mean what I wanted it to mean? No? Well then, those are changes I’ll have to make. I can already spot some niggling details that need changing…
Then, I hope to get this to market and maybe give y’all some good news about where you can read the rest of it.