Dialog with a Finished Story: Can I go out and play yet?

Me: Well, that is that. One finished story hot off the presses. Okay, the computer screen. But you get the idea.

Story: Good job, chief. Whoa, what are you doing now?

Me: Sending the story off to a magazine.

Story: Um, aren’t you going to let it sit for a while? Maybe let it cool off? Check it again later when your mind is fresh?

Me: What for? It’s perfect. There’s no need for all that.

Story: There is always a need for that. When you finish a story you should always let it sit for awhile and then come back to it with fresh eyes.

Me: Whatever for? I keep telling you it’s perfect.

Story: And I keep telling you that it may be perfect but more likely there are mistakes you have not seen because you are too close to the story. Your view of the story is rather one dimensional, being the person who wrote it. Especially this close to having just finished it. Better to wait a while and read it again fresh.

Me: Okay, then can I send it off?

Story: I’d like to send you off. No, then you need to let someone else read the story. Someone whose criticism you trust. It’s almost always good protocol to let a beta reader see the story. Even better, a beta reader who doesn’t necessarily read the particular genre you are writing it. That way she is approaching it as a pure reader and will judge the story on its merits alone. This is very important. Once the story passes those tests then it is probably safe to send away so an editor can take a look at it.

Me: I thought I was just supposed to write the story.

Story: There’s a lot you have to learn about this business, I can see. No, writing the story is probably the most difficult part, I will give you that. But your job is not finished when you finish the story. It’s really only begun.

Me: Okay, I will send the story to a family member. She likes everything I write.

Story: Again, no. What use is that? You don’t need someone who thinks everything you write is golden. You need a good solid beta reader who will judge your story on its merit alone. Family members, unless they themselves are writers, are almost always the worst beta readers. They are less likely to be truthful if they see something they don’t like because they are conflating the story with their love of you. They often can’t separate the two. No, you need someone hard and uncompromising, who will tell you the story is not working in certain regards if that is what they see.

Me: But I keep telling you the story is perfect. So if this beta reader finds something that he thinks is wrong with the story, obviously my opinion counts more. I mean, I wrote the thing, not him.

Story: Do you purposefully try to be obtuse and make my life hard? No, clown, that’s not how it works. You listen to criticism. You don’t have to agree with it, but you do have to listen to it and judge its value. Maybe they are right or maybe they are wrong, but one thing you cannot dismiss is their opinion. Their opinion of your story, at least from their frame, is not wrong. For them it is right, even if they can’t articulate it sometimes.

Me: But–

Story: Shut up and listen. You wrote the story. But the reader reads the story. He brings a completely new and different perspective which is denied you because you are too close to the work. So if your beta reader says there is a problem with the story then brother you had better listen and try and figure out where it has gone wrong. Yes, I agree, sometimes a reader misses the mark. They are human, too. But you don’t dismiss out of hand what they have to say about your story. Despite what you think, you have not written gold. I don’t give a damn who you are, there’s not a writer out there who does not, or would not, be better served with an editor’s blue pencil. Not that they use blue pencils anymore, but you get my drift.

Me: And here I thought I could send the story off because I finished it.

Story: You’re almost there, don’t worry. Give the story a little time to cool off, have a beta reader or two (whom you trust) read the story, make any necessary changes, and then send it to an editor. All else being equal you want to send the very best story you can, not a story you think is the best.

Me: You know, while you’ve been talking I’ve reread the first page. I found two typos already.

Story: That alone probably won’t get the story rejected, but more than that, or some other deeper structural flaw within the story, might. Put the story aside and put it out of your mind. When you look at it again you want to be fresh.

Me: Okay, you’ve convinced me. There, I’ve saved the file and I’ll come back to it later. So what do I do now?

Story: You start on your next story, of course.

Me: Hey, why didn’t I think of that?

Story: Do you really want me to answer that?

Me: No. I guess not.

Story: I didn’t think so. Come on. Less talking. More writing.

When you finish a story put it aside and come back to it later with fresh eyes.

Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. K.M., this is sort of brave of you to admit, as a published, professional writer, that you might need to be reminded by your Story Muse to comeback to a “finished” story later, with fresh eyes, that you need to be reminded to have an impartial reader evaluate the story. This is very valuable advice, presented with a light touch that makes it go down easy. Thank you.

    Reply
    • I know it’s hard to do, but that’s writing, right? Nothing is easy about this profession, nothing. I’m glad you found my advice helpful, I appreciate that. :)

      Reply

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