The CuriousPages Sketchbook

Writing: Choosing the Right Drinks

My comments on the first version of Choosing the Right Drinks. (See below for my notes on the final version.)

Four months after completing the first version of this story, I’ve looked at it again and polished out a few blemishes that I could not live with, but by and large, it’s the same story as the first completed draft. I received some comments on the story from the editor of Chapman magazine. She said:

This story is well written—with style and confidence and reads easily, speaking clearly to the reader. I’m sure it deserves publication. For me, however, it’s not enough of a story, more of a ‘first one life, then another’ being retold, but without anything really happening in the present—I think you need to make the story live much more in interaction in the present.

This is about the fourth of my stories that I have received feedback from this editor, and my overall impression is that she just misses the whole point of each story.

First of all, all her comments are cryptic, since she clearly does not have the skill of expressing her own thoughts clearly. Fair enough, most people don’t, and perhaps that’s why she’s a literary editor instead of a writer. So, it is up to the writer to wrack his brains and attempt to work out what ideas might be in her head—because her words certainly don’t convey those.

After careful consideration, I think she is saying, in general, that there is nothing wrong with any of your stories, or your writing, but that I have a very specific idea about how I like stories in my magazine to be structured, regardless of their content. Perhaps she means this, but I suspect it would not be possible to ever get to the bottom of what’s in her mind, as with most people.

But all feedback is of great value, and this particular comment caused me to look closely at the form of this current story, and also of all the others I’ve produced recently.

This story is what I would call a ‘concept piece’. It is exploring the simple idea: We must choose to spend our life in some way, but what if we spend our whole life on something that we later decide is worthless?

Most of the content, therefore, is going to be in the past. And there can only be a very limited plot (if that’s what she means by ‘story’) in the present, since one of the protagonists happens to be on his deathbed.

Reading between the lines of her comment, I think it is just the interaction between the characters that she is missing. She would like to see a story told purely in terms of present day interactions, with no history or any other structural devices. For whatever reason, that’s the main element that she likes to read in fiction, so any fiction she publishes must contain mainly that component—perhaps that’s what she thinks; but who knows?

In my story, there is a good proportion of interaction depicted (and depicted well). But it is true, there could be a lot more. But then, within the available space of a short story, and because of the structure I chose—having to include a lot of Joe’s history, and a fair amount of Clem’s, to portray the content—this did not leave enough room for spending pages depicting interaction in the present, and also, this was not necessary to portray the point of the story.

Of this editor’s previous comments, I have often found myself shouting back at the page: “But this is a short story, numbskull, not a novel. There is not the room in a short story to do what you’ve suggested.”

In fairness to her, I think she is not usually capable of knowing what her objections are. She is uneasy about a story, for some reason, and she just plucks comments at random (in effect) out of the air, since, when you analyse her comments they do not stand up to scrutiny. It’s true, there is some reason why she does not like a story, but it is not the reason that she gives in her feedback, which comments are not usually valid—except, of course, the complimentary ones!

If the story had been a novel, then I agree, more depiction of character interaction in the present would be good—would be essential, I would say. But it is not a novel; it is a short story. And it was purposefully structured in the way that it was in order to portray its theme, which, in the space available, could not have been depicted as she suggested.

Anyhow, if anyone else has any feedback on the story, or reflection on the editor’s comment above, do please share your thoughts.

 

30 October 2009


Draft two

I had another look at the story and decided to flesh out the interactions in the first two thirds of the story. When I read the story back, there was a sort of “hole in the middle” effect. The first two and last two pages had much more substance then the middle ones. I ended up adding depth only to Clemency’s character. I have left Joseph to tell his story in his narrative, as before.

I think the final version is a much stronger story. It has more substance. All the extra detail adds depth to Clemency’s character and adds to the impact of the story. I think.

 

Here is the first draft

Here is the second draft

Here is the second draft, with all the additions highlighted

 

6 November 2009

 

Here is the third, and final, draft (see my notes on editing the story)

 

10 October 2010

 

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