One of the aspects of Odyssey that I’m really looking forward to learning is how to revise. Some writers write a very rough rough draft, and then chisel and cut away, or mold and build up their story into a more polished final form. I tend to write in a manner that is summed up in a Stephen King quote (which I am paraphrasing from memory, so I don’t know how accurate it is) that writing is like digging up an artifact, and it is pretty much in its final form at the first digging, and any amount of messing with it afterward risks its destruction.
This is not to say that I don’t think that many of my stories still need work, it is just that they often feel very finished to me when I first write them. I still edit for spelling, usage and clarity, but I don’t really find myself changing the overall story all that much. I hope to change this behavior (at least I think I do) because I think there is much to be gained in the rewriting process.
I’m thinking of such things today because I just did a major rewrite on a story that I’ll be submitting at Odyssey, and while I think the story is stronger than it was before I started, I know it could be better. The story in question is one called Night of the Green Devil, and first of all I am proud that I was able to cut over twelve hundred words from the story, and not really change the gist of it all that much. There’s a saying that you can always cut ten percent out of a story, and this is probably almost always true. In the case of Green Devil, I was able to do it by eliminating one of the story’s most troubling aspects: The fact that over one third of it was told as a first person flashback.
I had submitted this story several times, and it had of course been rejected. The last rejection had a comment that said the first person flashback was lengthy and awkward. I had to agree–I always had felt it was, but the problem was, I really needed to start the story in the present, and then fill in back story from sixty years earlier. As the back story was events that happened to one of the characters, I simply had him tell it to the other character.
Fixing this felt really good, as it not only eliminated all those extra words that were necessary to have the two characters talking to one another, but it gave the back story section a bit more immediacy. I simply did it by making a break at the proper point, writing a header entitled "Sixty Years Earlier," and then continuing the tale in the third person. (Third person to me feels more story-like and proper, though I have written several stories in first person) When I finished the back story, I simply jumped back into the present time action. It seemed to work.
The only drawback is that I didn’t change the back story a great deal--other than substituting "he" for "I" and "Their" for "our," and so on--so much of the back story section feels like telling instead of showing. I’ll probably get dinged for this at Odyssey, but that’s okay for now. I’m looking forward to the critiquing process help me make this one a better tale, and for the moment, it is just under the word limit for Odyssey, so I didn’t want to add too much to it.
On another revision note, I got anther request for a revision on a story from a submission. This time just a few changes, which I made and resubmitted. The story is called The Night Bigfoot Attacked Marshall Texas, June 15, 1977. It is based on my own childhood, and is one of my favorites of my stories, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one.