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A Bounce And An Edit

Posted by Tom Benedict on 09/06/2011

My first short story was bounced back. Not rejected, mind you, but bounced. The publisher had to close their doors, so they sent all unread stories back to their authors. It makes me sad, because I really liked what I read in the issues they had published. I have another story in the works that would have been a perfect fit for them. So instead of having to find a new market for one story, I’m having to re-think the market for two.

I turned the first story around within a day, but I don’t think the new market is as good a fit as the first publisher was. Meanwhile I’ll keep looking.

I thought I had the second story in final form, so last night I gave it to my wife to read. I know I’m a relatively new writer, so I’m not in a position to dispense advice to other writers. But I think I can say this without concern that I’m leading others astray: A writer’s best friend is a reader.

When I write, she gives me space. No talking, no questions, no reminders that the trash needs taking out. When she reads, I give her the same space. So I did the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, scrubbed the stove, anything to stay out of her hair. Still, I stole glances at her from time to time. I was appalled to see how much she was writing in the margins and between the lines! When I handed it to her, I thought the story was done. After what felt like a lifetime of agony, she put it down and called me over.

She caught one grammatical error I was thankful for. One section was tagged as “Slow!” It was cut. At the end she had a list of plot questions I’d left hanging. We discussed it for about half an hour, but what it boiled down to was that I had missed the real meat of the story. I’d written for the wrong plot question.

Before anyone thinks that it’s the writer and not the reader who should call that shot, remember what stories are there for: they’re there to entertain a reader. This makes the reader the expert in the equation. If the writer can’t entertain the reader, they’ve failed.

It took a few hours to really figure out how I wanted to go about fixing the story, but once the plan clicked into place I knew it would be a better story than what I’d originally written. Out came an unfortunate amount of the humor I’d tried to put in, and the punchline at the end of the story had to be gutted entirely. Some of what I thought was back story went in at the front, and half of what was left was entirely re-written. It’s rough. You can’t make that much of a change to a story and have it be anything else. But one more editorial pass and it might actually stand on its own. By the time I went to bed I felt like I had been through the emotional wringer. That’s a good sign!

The funny thing is, before the edits I was having a hard time finding a good market for it. After? I’m pretty sure I already know where to send it when my wife declares it good.

– Tom


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