Recently, I handed off a scene from last year’s NaNoWriMo to a professional editor. It was a nerve-wracking experience.
Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh. In Lady Stair’s House. Photo by Jeremy Keith.
Now, I’ve shared my stories with others before: friends, writing buddies, family (once in a while), even strangers. I don’t stress about feedback from any of those folks. They receive my stories as a chunk of text to absorb, and, for the most part, their feedback is a simple, “I liked it,” or “I didn’t.” We may go into slightly more detail than that, but it’s often conversational, with comments painted in pretty broad strokes.
A professional edit, though, picks a story apart scene by scene, line by line, word by word. That’s good. It helps a writer step outside the confines of their little self-imposed world, to have someone examine that world with a sharp, precise knife and cut where necessary. They may do a little triage, too, to keep the story pumping. I’d trust an editor – especially a good one, like I was lucky enough to get – to do that.
When I received the pages back and finished reading through all the comments, I wanted to scuttle back into my NaNo hole and tear the whole story apart again. Not because I was crushed or demoralized by those red marks. Because those red marks showed me there was something there. And I wanted to fight for it. I wanted to dig deeper into myself and that world and those characters, and make the story better. Because, with those fixes and suggestions, I knew it could be so.
I didn’t think I’d pick up that story again. It was a first draft, and first drafts always need work. But, when I crossed the NaNo finish line last year, I thought, Good enough. Now, I know how wrong I was. The best bit? The editor never came out and told me I could do better. It was everything between the lines: all the little ticks and tacks that – when I saw them – I knew were right.
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have worried. The editor’s feedback was great. Not to say it was all glowing praise, because it wasn’t that. Rather, it was observant, critical, and helpful, what a proper edit should be. And, just reading through the comments for that one scene made me realize the story wasn’t all it could be.
I wasn’t all I could be.
So, I decided to take the pages back and start over. Not from scratch, because I do like a lot of the story already. But the suggestions and observations are with me every time I start to play in that world again. And when I play in all my other worlds, too.
The story may never be great, or a bestseller, or even publishable. But I can make it better than it was before.
Better. Stronger. Faster. Dah-na-na-naa! Dah-na-na-na-na Na-na-na-naa!
What words of wisdom do you have for a hopeful aspirant? Got stories of your own to share? Want to trade? Let me know!
I seem to be ping-pong-ing with my challenges, lately. Hope that’s all right with everyone. If not…well, too bad.
This is week 78 for the 100 Word Challenge for Grown-Ups, provided by Julia’s Place. For this week, Julia says the prompt is:
…what does it taste like…
There were no specific rules about including this phrase in our submissions, so I just ran with the spirit of the prompt.
“In His Kiss”
He smelled clean, electric, like a fresh summer rain that prickled her nostrils every time she drew breath. He felt like it, too: skin slick beneath her fingers, lips wet as he pressed them to hers. His body gave off a flowing heat she felt in wavy vapors as he took her in his arms.
Whispering his desires around their mouths, he pulled her to the ground, plucking gently at her buttons.
She let him do it all. Because she couldn’t go back to the farm. Not after that first kiss, when she’d tasted this fate on his sweet lips.
I’d considered calling this one “A Taste of Things to Come,” but, that just made me think of Shang Tsung.
I have a character who is blind, and, in considering a tale from her point of view, I’ve wondered what it might be like to write a story without using the convention of visual description. A love scene – such as this is – is not particularly difficult, because it’s so much about what is felt, anyway. But, I’m a firm believer in using all senses in description when I
No raunch, this time. Just good, old fashioned sweetness.
can remember to do so. This prompt provided some fun practice.
As writers, we paint with words to describe. Most often, those words relate to the visual sense. But, what are your next favorite senses in description?
Another double-up of prompts, mostly because I’m too tired to concentrate on each without combining them (it’s been a long week).
Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentence Fiction prompt is “ZOMBIE” and Julia’s 100-Word Challenge for Grown-Ups prompt is a picture:
I’ve taken a fair amount of liberty with these prompts, but we write how we’re inspired.
Palm pressed to the terminal, she paused, briefly, as the data jumped between synapses – maps, securcam feeds, personnel records, everything was open to her.
“Think you can find your friends?” the soldier asked, startling her concentration.
Pulling her hand away, she opened her eyes, empty black replacing the wild torrent of information, and frowned: how could people shuffle dead-eyed and dumb through their own world? The Institute’s doctors had said she was special, if alone – the last of her kind – and, now, she understood why.
“I may not see,” Imien said, “but that doesn’t make me blind.”
Some technobabble, but I liked getting into Imien’s head a bit, here; she’s one of the Stowaways I haven’t really examined.
What five sentences or 100 words did you write, this time?
It’s time, once again, for another 100 Word Challenge for Grown-Ups, courtesy of Julia, who prompts us with
…as the apple fell….
We’ve got to incorporate the prompt, which means we get a total of 104 words with which to work. For me, I’m examining a character in the rough.
He crunched, teeth ripping through red flesh, and sniffed at the dumb, shuffling forms below. Worms, they were: dim drones bred for labor and submission.
Not that he was better. Soldiers followed orders; the behavioral inhibitors wired through his central nervous system made certain of that.
But there had been a time…a time when he’d reveled in the rush of freedom, the flush of passions, and the squeeze of tiny fingers around his thumb….
He crunched again, then grimaced, at the wriggle of greenish, half-eaten pulp.
As the apple fell, he aimed his rifle and sniffed again.
Worms. That’s all any of them were.
Dark, perhaps, but it’s where my mind’s at, these days of rain and storms.
I’m back in the world of the Stowaways, for this week’s 100 Word Challenge for Grown-Ups (week 56).
Julia is offering the following for our prompt:
“…as my penance [for last week’s confusion,] I am posting what I hope is an easier prompt for you but with a link to my apology. The prompt is: … being clear is essential to …”
There was no direction that we needed to include those specific words (Julia is often very clear about that), so I didn’t. But, hopefully, you’ll see why it’s often so necessary to follow instructions.
“You’re not taking us back!” Stoll shouted, just as the hunter vaulted over the table, smashing his boot into Stoll’s face; blood arced from his nose as Stoll crashed to the floor, his rifle clattering beside.
Lelia’s pistol flashed up, but the hunter spun on her, slapping his hand to the base of her head to send her to the floor, too.
Tych squeezed his gloves around his spanner, but that was all. The next second, he was staring down the hunter’s gun barrel.
“Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear,” the big man growled. “I said, you’re coming with me.”
Action is not my strong suit, but I do enjoy dabbling with it, every now and again. I figured it was warranted for this moment, seeing as it’s a follow-up to Aral’s scene, from an earlier prompt.
I’m thinking more and more I’d like to examine these characters in greater detail. Perhaps for this year’s NaNoWriMo?
How clear did your scene or story come out this week?