I stayed at my friend’s flat for a few days last summer. (Actually, I stayed a few days in two flats last summer: I have very generous friends.) When I was there, working at a lovely desk in the dining room and enjoying the peace of their oldest son’s bedroom, I had two ideas for stories. They were both based on experiences that I had there. One turned into Neon Tetra Suicides and the other turned into Martin Stays Over. The first of these worked itself out quickly. I wrote it, did a couple of edits and then sent it out. The second one I have had all kinds of problems with.
It’s really a story about being a child and listening to adults having a dinner party. I can’t write that story without something happening, so there’s also some weird stuff. The feedback I’ve had on the story suggests that I got the little boy’s voice right. Really right. I’ve also got the scary action towards the end right. I read that part at Illicit Ink in October, so it has had a lot of work.
The problem is that the two sections don’t fit together.
In the first few drafts, there was too much background before the action. Too much detail and information. When the action came it was completely unexpected and confused some people. There was also no real resolution after the action. It is as if nothing happened yet we know that something did. There were 2,000 words of setup and 1,000 words of action followed by 50 of conclusion. The sections were like blocks of wood, stacked one on the other, not like fibres working together to form a branch.
In the final draft, I swapped sections about so that the action starts on the first line. The setup happens in flashback, as it were, before the big action piece. I also changed a couple of relationships, got rid of a parent, added a slightly unpleasant adult and attempted closure at the end. I tried to stitch it all together into a coherent unit.
Then I sent it out and had it rejected – very graciously – in four days. Voice good, plot and resolution weak.
So what now? I have options.
- Send the short story to a flash fiction market.
- Send the long story out again, to another market.
- Edit the long story again.
- Start again.
Option 3 is the only one I refuse to do. I have spent to much time trying to force this story into shape. Writing it from scratch again appeals to me. There’s a freedom in taking what I’ve learned from the feedback I’ve had on this story and applying it to something completely new. But I have other stories that I want to tell too. Spending even more time with Martin takes me away from them.
I need to move on now, walk away, give this one up for dead. Not everything I write will be brilliant. This particular story doesn’t seem to have a point other than that you’re pretty powerless when you’re eight years old. I think I’ve spent more hours trying to make that point than the value of my insight warrants.
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