So the short story currently stands at 12,000+ words. And thus the short story is not short at all, particularly given the fact that there are great, enormous gaping holes all throughout the narrative. And thus the short story, in addition to not being short, is not actually a story (yet) either. (Two criteria, and it hasn't achieved either. Poor story is currently suffering a quite severe existential crisis.)

Normally, I'm of the "write, keep writing, don't stop 'til you get enough finish a first draft" school of thought. Because otherwise I'd have a perfectly polished paragraph which may or may not be the beginning and nothing to hang off any side of it. But there's always a tipping point, a point where I abandon the not-draft I'm working on and call it finished enough and start revising said not-draft into a proper first draft. And two days ago I hit that tipping point because I don't think I can fill in those narrative holes without actually knowing, well, the narrative. So back to the start it is for me.

Those of you who've been around for a while will know that my normal routine is to write sans outline, but also sans narrative order. I write a scene, or half a scene, or even just a line of dialogue, and figure out where it fits in the entire story only once I have the entire story. I even write scenes and paragraphs this way — leaving a couple of blank lines and just pouring sentence fragments onto the page, and then I go back and start writing up to and around them. (Writing paragraphs this way is actually probably approaching normal – it's just my way of both editing as I go and at the same time avoiding the "can't write because my brain is trying to edit it!" dilemma. Writing scenes this way gets a little trickier, but it's not so bad because a scene is small enough to keep the whole thing in your head at once. Short stories and novels, not so much.)

Which is why Tessa, for one, gets a wild and panicked look in her eye whenever we discuss this scattershot/jigsaw habit of mine, as if I've just confessed I've decided to take up juggling pissy cobras and I don't need to practice with inanimate objects first, really, how hard can it be? She's right, really. So much to go wrong! So much does go wrong! My first attempt, the not-draft, is appalling. It's basically one big tangle of continuity errors, ambience at the expense of narrative, characters with no names, clues about what the story hinges on that my subconscious has oh-so-conveniently dropped rather than just, yanno, telling me outright, and notes in the margin. (Normally the latter are of the FUCK FUCK FUCK I DON'T KNOW WHAT? variety. Or sometimes the equally amusing, ER, REALLY? variety.) Seriously, those tangential illogical outlines that pour out of a fevered brain at 2am in an illegible scrawl are cohesive in comparison to the not-draft. Hence the tipping point.

The not-draft, being so very appalling, does then present serious difficulties when it comes to revision time. It's basically like doing a jigsaw — one where some of the snippets have been jammed together incorrectly and need to be undone in order to be put together correctly, where some of the pieces are missing entirely, and where some of the pieces may, in point of fact, belong to your Aunt Mildred's puzzle depicting a vase of gladioli and she's been wondering where that got to, thank you dear. Thankfully, I've gotten a little better at this jigsaw revision process, so that the official first draft doesn't (always) look like I've pieced together bits of the cat's vomit.

Part of this improvement is learning just how ruthless and brutal to be. Answer: exceedingly.

I've spent the past two nights — two weary, post-dayjob-wrung-out sort of nights — painstakingly massaging this one particular scene, getting the words just right. And last night, as I fell asleep, I realised that this one particular scene has to go. In its entirety. Because it's the second scene, and a giggle in a doorway, while important, is not enough to justify an entire scene, particularly the second scene in a story that should have started by now. Fuckit.

All of which is a very long way of saying Note to Self: Every scene and paragraph and sentence must accomplish more than one important something. Kill your darlings. YOU KNOW THIS ALREADY.

So tonight I'm going to spend my evening excising that painstakingly-revised scene out of the story, leaving no traces behind. I'll scavenge some of the passages, and weave them in among the rest of the story as appropriate, so the work (and the time spent on it) is not lost entirely. And any work that gets you to realising precisely what you need to do to fix or improve a story is never lost.

But it FEELS like lost and wasted time.


  1. But the jigsaw is so tantalisingly wonderful! And then, despite the process of watching you put it together being somewhat terrifying, you make it all work so gobsmackingly brilliantly! This reader thinks the agony your stories put you through is what makes them so kickarse.

  2. I was thinking that your out-of-order plotting is probably one of your strengths. For a lesser writer, it could easily lead to forcing the story in directions it doesn't want to go, but you're wiser than that, and it means the end product is remarkably unexpected and challenging, and failing at all predictability and cliche.

  3. Wow. First, thank you! Second, interesting thought! Although SQ and SB were both written (most uncharacteristically for me) in order. Still without an outline, though. Maybe any unexpectedness I manage to cram into my stories really comes from my not knowing what's happening, and thus being just as surprised as the characters?

Comments are closed.