FullSizeRenderNone of my readers liked the main character in my story.  In fact, I don’t even like Wilson.

Here is the feedback I got from Tom.

“I do have these random thoughts.

Wilson reminds me a little of J. Alfred Prufrock in the first half of the story, wondering about himself, introverted and introspective.

I don’t like Wilson and would not want to be friends with him.

Both women are mean to him and he spends his life helping women.

How did he get to this point of desperation in his life where he can neither act, nor not act, and he is vilified for doing either by himself and others.

All in all, I think you had a good time writing this, I hope it wasn’t too painful, and I would be honored to read your next undertaking.”

I thought Tom’s painful comment was funny and ironic, because now it is going to be painful since I’m at a loss as to how to help the story henceforth!

I think it’s ok to have an unlikable character, but the reader must still care about that character. And that’s where I failed. I made Wilson into a caricature rather than a well-rounded character. He’s too persnickety, too prissy, too judging. I went overboard.

I jumped into writing the story without thinking more about it ahead of time. It’s a weakness of mine. I need to back up and write a character sketch about Wilson. Because the more I know about him, the easier it will be to make him seem real and relatable.

Here are some thoughts to help kick-start the sketch.

Where did Wilson grow up? What were his parents like?

Pick two or three childhood events. How does Wilson feel about them?

Go into his young adulthood. Dredge up a few memories.

Write down Wilson’s physical description—his eyes, hair, skin, teeth…

How about Wilson’s style of dress? His way of speech? Does he have a personal motto?

Describe Wilson’s mannerisms, his quirks, his bad habits, his likes and dislikes.

Does Wilson have any redeeming qualities?

I’ll construct Wilson and his life history, and I’ll try to make him more human and then maybe the readers, even if they still don’t like him, will be able to empathize with him. Back to work!

Revision Decisions

IMG_0262Last February 2015, I wrote a short story at a three-day writing retreat at the Faber Academy an offshoot of Faber & Faber in London. Marcel Theroux led the retreat.

Marcel was an instructive teacher, funny and charming as he pushed us to complete our stories. For three days, we wrote—with occasional breaks for sessions on craft. On the last day, we read our very different stories aloud.

I came home with a story about a repressed married man who, one night after work, gives a stranger a ride home.

One year later, I got back to the story for revisions. For me, writing is the fun part while revising feels tedious and tiresome. No matter, it must be done! That’s what 2016—The Year of Submission means for me and Jenny. Finishing our work and sending it out.

Here is part of my revising checklist.

Spend much time and angst over the opening sentence, so hard to get right, but so important in hooking the reader into continuing. The following are great first lines.

“I’m spending the afternoon auditioning men.” Aimee Bender, “Call My Name”

“They shoot the white girl first…” Toni Morrison, Paradise

Take out extraneous words. If the word doesn’t add anything to the sentence, remove it.

Use strong verbs. He walked should become, he stomped…he puttered…he skipped…depending on the context.

Adverbs? “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” Stephen King feels strongl—oops, I mean Stephen King does not like adverbs. But I’ve decided I’m ok with a few, here and there.

Construct paragraphs with varying degrees of sentence length—short, long, medium—which makes it more enjoyable for the reader. Here’s an example by Lorrie Moore in her short story “Referential.”

“All this had to be accepted. Living did not mean one joy piled upon another. It was merely the hope for less pain, hope played like a playing card upon another hope, a wish for kindnesses and mercies to emerge like kings and queens in an unexpected change of the game.”

Read and reread every sentence hunting for typos, clunky transitions…

Whew! Done. Now it’s time to find readers for advice and suggestions before I submit the story. This time, I’ve found three people, a Lutheran priest who writes plays as well as a couple, who are both professors. Stay tuned for what they say…