Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writing is Revising

I hit a wall in May, as far as my writing, and that slid on through into June.  I’m pretty sure I took twice as many days off from writing, each month, as I had taken in the first four months of the year. 

But I think that’s behind me now.  One weekend, a couple weeks back, while riding in the car with my son, who has his driver’s permit, I formulated the spines for four new short stories—all ideas that I want to pursue.  So, as my son drove, I did my best to get my fat fingers to punch out my notes on my [not]-smart phone.  Since then, I’ve been working on building these narratives, recently completing one first draft as I transitioned to the next story. 

Now, that preamble is all well and good.  But this post isn’t about my writing “woes” or the content of those four stories—although I would hope to be able to use them in a Maine-themed collection down the line, if I ever break through to the big publishers; we’ll see. 

Anyway.  This post is about beginnings. 

The opening of a short story, a format where you have very little space (1500-5000 words, generally speaking) to get across a full narrative and every single word needs to work toward revealing your story, needs to grab readers.  The advice to start a scene late and end early definitely applies to this. 

Sure, Harlan Ellison can write a story in a bookstore window, but it’s a challenge for me to figure out how best to tell my stories.  Which means, more often than not, my first drafts are complete dreck and often overwritten. 

Case in point, that most recent first draft I completed.  My initial opening scene ran for three pages and roughly 700 words.


I’d recently read Annie Proulx’s collection, Close Range, and the pictures she painted with her words are breathtaking and distinct.  Her writing is beautiful, and reading this collection made me want to try to write something in that same vein.


But one should also be aware of one’s limitations.  I’m not Annie Proulx.  I think my strength lies in dialogue and in concision.  My half-assed attempt at crafting an oil painting from my lexicon fell flat. 


And luckily, as I reached the halfway point of this first draft, my mind came to that realization.  I decided to do what I do best, and just excise all the flourishes and get right to the meat of that opening scene.  Here it is.  Compare that with the three pages I’ve shared here (note, all the highlighted text are my notes to myself, as I’m writing, to help with clarity when it comes time to revise)

Tim Samuels could barely hear his own voice.  “I killed her.”  The expanse of the church engulfed the phrase, but the words hit him in the chest like a thunderbolt.
The pastor did not flinch, motioned for Tim to sit down as he settled into the pew in front of him.  “Please.  Start from the beginning.” 

Only 56 words.  And I’m a lot happier with it. 

That’s writing…revising. 


No comments: