on the evolution of a story

I’m chugging away at a new story. I’ve had this one in mind for quite some time, and I’m tackling it as it shouldn’t take too long. I’m aware, as I steam ahead scattering words in my wake, how much of it I will have to hack away once I’m done. But that’s OK. That’s why it’s a first draft.

I don’t think I could ever show anyone one of my first drafts. They are too raw, too unskilled, and I don’t like other people to see my work like that. After a second or third pass the story can be viewed by others. It’s still elastic so suggestions can be acted upon.

As I continue to re-write parts of the story become more rigid, and it’s harder to change or adapt those sections. It’s best if I can show people the semi-fixed state, because I’m still capable of making serious changes to the characters and/or plot if I think it will benefit the story.

The hardest part is showing it to people when it has hit its semi-concrete stage. At that point, it’s difficult to rework it without major suffering on my part, and usually on the part of the story. I’ll accept all suggestions, but sometimes they just can’t be implemented. Of course, there are people who don’t “get” the story, and there’s no point trying to re-write it based on their input.

Towards the end, the story enters the finished stage. At that point only minor edits to the sentence structure and/or dialogue can happen. In order for me to launch a major overhaul on a story that is so fixed in my mind I would have to take a long break from it. Only then would I be able to approach it with the freshness, distance and vigour that a total re-imagining would require.

My Lego approach to writing works well for screenplays, but I find it harder to apply to short stories.

In the end, however, I will do whatever it takes to improve a story. Even if it requires taking a lump hammer to a beloved, but untenable, structure.

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