From novel excerpt to short story

pencilI’ve been working on a couple of short stories. I’m in awe of how difficult, and liberating, it is to write a good one. Every gesture, scene, and piece of landscape and dialogue has to matter and work to move the reader towards a defining moment.

I’ve learned an interesting lesson with one of these stories, “Letting Go.”  I took a chapter from the novel I’m working on and tried to make it a standalone story. The novel is in first-person present.  I may change that, but for now that’s the narrative point of view.

So I printed out the chapter excerpt from the novel (the point in the novel when the heroine’s mother is dying) and marked it up, adding a little information to make it clear who the characters are, why the mother is dying, etc. My writing group gave this revision the thumbs up. Mind you, they had the benefit, or disadvantage, of having read everything that proceeds and follows this chapter.

I thought the story was ready to send out.

Then I gave it to my husband to read. He hadn’t seen any of the new novel. So he came to the story cold. He was very frank, which I love about him. The story didn’t work. Not enough background, not nearly enough time with the main character. It was “weird.”

I sulked for a day (for me, resistence always proceeds a major revision), then got to work. Cut the story to ribbons. Changed the point of view (to third-person) and tense (to past).

Guess what? It’s better. And different. The standalone version gives the reader enough distance and background (I hope) to be able to take in what the main character’s experiencing at a critical moment of her life.  

I’ll give the story another pass for typos, substitute a verb here and there for better one, and then it’s outta here.

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