Last 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…