My inbox showed an email from a literary magazine, and I read what I expected:
“Thank you for your submission. However….”
I knew the story I submitted needed work, but I half hoped it would get accepted for publication anyway. Still, I archived the email – what else do you do with rejection letters? – and set my mind on a rewrite of the story, sooner than later.
I pulled a scene from a different story and wove it into the beginning of my rewrite. I changed the title to “Borrowed Time.” I liked the new title and the way the new first scene reshaped itself. When I got to the middle of the story, I let one character leave the chair that he sat in through the entire first version. Once he got up and started walking around, his persona changed and shifted the entire tone of the story.
Junior started out as a rough, lanky, balding guy who smoked too much, ate too little, and wasn’t shy about his chauvinism. In the rewrite, he was taking up more space and air. Junior grew more sinister, and then he turned up dead.
Junior’s actions and his demise left me in a lurch. I wrote Junior’s death scene with my eyes fixed on the screen, my fingers typing non-stop. My mind was fluid in every direction that played out. But because I have been over dramatic before, in life and in my writing, I questioned those changes minutes after I saved the draft and closed my laptop.
Do I rewrite through the darker tone, or do I settle Junior back down and re-revise the original scene?
How do you know when a significant rewrite, not just an edit, adds strength and life to a story and doesn’t just blow up a scene with unnecessary tension?