Junior Stood Up and Shook Up the Story

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?


7 responses to “Junior Stood Up and Shook Up the Story

  1. That’s a difficult question. I suppose it’s when I come back later and re-read the entire story. One thing I’ve noticed, and I don’t know whether it will help or hurt, but sometimes I think I’m over-dramatic, then I read others’ work with a colder, slower eye and realize that if I wrote some of those scenes, I might consider them “over dramatic”. So it could be you’re being too hard on yourself, or not.

    I’ve written scenes in that fluid flow you mention, and later loved them and thought they fit, other times ended up cutting them.

    Isn’t that helpful?! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. One way is to give the story to a reliable test reader and listen closely to the reader’s comments.

  3. Thanks, Cathyrn and Ann, for your advice. I agree another read is in order, by myself and from a fellow writer. And, I’ll keep in mind that question of if I’m being too hard on myself or not.

  4. I always have to let it sit. It is amazing the clarity received when things can simmer for a while before tasting, so to speak.

    I also love the turn of events that happened for you. My favorite part of writing is the life the words will undertake in the beginning stages. I have tried & tried to explain it to non-writer friends & no one else understands how things can “just happen.” Wonderful!

    • I’ve gone back once and done a little more editing, but now I think I will let it sit, at least for a few days.

      And that process of the story unfolding, in the moment, is difficult to explain! What a relief that other writers completely “get it.”

      Thanks for taking the time to leave your comment ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I blogged about this recently. I had a scene that was “fluidly” written and I loved it, but a week or so after I wrote it, I realized it wouldn’t work for that character. When my critique group agreed, I had to revise. So I think you instinctively know, maybe not immediately, but soon, that something isn’t quite right and needs to be reworked. That’s NOT the same as seconding guessing though. The “instinctive knowing” runs deeper.

    I love how you described Junior’s getting up and walking around changing the story! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Trusting my instinct. I guess I’m still working on that ๐Ÿ™‚

      The scene really did make the initial story completely different, which is why I questioned it so much. I didn’t want to change the story, I just wanted to tighten it up a bit. But, now, I think I’ll stick with the new scene and Junior’s demise. I’ve edited it a wee bit, but the development of his character still seems important.

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