Still Unresolved Sexual Tension

Word Cloud for Unresolved Sexual Tension Story
Word Cloud for Unresolved Sexual Tension Story

This is a continuation of last week’s post. I’m going step by step through my typical process for drafting, editing and submitting a short story.

Why? Do I think this will add value to what other writers are doing? Do I think I’m the best person to provide this advice?

No and no. I’m partly interested in a discussion about how we work. Mostly though, I want to show other writers that submitting stories isn’t a scary process. With email it is now as easy as clicking a button. However, you need to be careful and NEVER click that button too soon.

Putting your work out there, naked and exposed is the first step. Next comes refining technique and seeking advice. Finally, a determination bordering on insanity that yes, one day, your work will escape the slush pile.

My story was rough – I typed it directly into the WordPress “New Post” box and hit publish. Some might nod in agreement. Others might think “gee, if that’s rough then you’re an awesome writer (or hopeless braggart)”. Whatever your thoughts, what I committed to the page is the result of a solid year of focusing on nothing but writing. Rough or clean, it is a product of thousands of words, hours of seminars, and hours of interaction with other writers. I mention this because we will all continue to improve, but only if we continue to challenge ourselves and work on our craft.

Usually at this stage, I run my story through the first edits. I can already see a few typos, some awkward sentences. All that gets smoothed over. During this first pass, I read it aloud. This helps me see where the words flow or where they clog.

I also search for my bugaboos. Every writer has them. A soft spot on the underbelly of my prose is the constant confusion over “its” and “it’s”. I understand the rules – the possessive and the contraction, but when the words are flowing, my fingers rarely cooperate. Another is overuse of words such as “just” or “back”. You can word cloud your work at places like Wordle for insight or simply keep an eye open for repetition. I ran this short story and was pleasantly surprised to find ‘Sidge’, ‘Kaaliya’ and ‘bed’ living large in the cloud.

Once it is reasonably cleaned up, I run it by my crit group. Getting other eyes on your work is important. Often, they offer amazing ideas or solid advice from angles you, as the writer of the piece, can’t see.

This is another reason I don’t worry about showing them something I’ve polished and preened to “perfection” – I know I’ll be making changes. If you are already convinced it is perfect, chances are it will work against your careful consideration of other’s critique. Not to mention, you’re most likely flat wrong, because the chances something is perfect without feedback from a reader are slim. I don’t go to crit group for affirmations. I go for deconstructions.

Below, I’ll post a few of my edits (there were many more) to give you an idea of things I commonly fix in my work –

EDITS FOR MY AS OF YET UNNAMED STORY

He gathered the loose scraps of cloth that served as his bed around him.

Preposition madness. Sometimes I use too many and it weighs down sentences with unnecessary phrases. This one also occupies an awkward place and what it modifies isn’t clear. For any short story, you want the opening lines to be crystal clear and engaging for a reader. Sure, they all need to be that way but if the first few aren’t, you can guarantee no escape from the slush. I may need to rethink my opening because it doesn’t have a really good hook other than “this is about a guy with wings”.

I reworked the second paragraph because a lot of potential pronoun confusion with “he” being used for Sidge and Ivar.

But she simply never sept slept much.

Spell check is ‘grate’ when you aren’t accidentally spelling a valid word instead of the one you intend. 

Kaaliya’s smirk came across monochromatic in the light.

Weak verb, maybe unnecessary preposition. This is a fine tuning thing, really, but the right word can make a world of difference in a sentence. Probably go with “flickered” – it shows the brevity and weakness I intended – and consider dropping monochromatic or moving that to describe the light.

Kaaliya looked out the window. “I’m not sure. I’ve got contacts here. Places I could be quite comfortable.”

changed to

Kaaliya looked out the window. “I’m not sure. I’ve got opportunities here. Last time I visited, a noble promised a life of riches if I’d occupy his retreat by the ocean. Supper with him a few times a month.”

I wanted this to be more specific. If it’s too vague, my reader is guessing and perhaps there is less tension. Plus the sexual nature of her other relationships feels like a necessary component. I need to get across Kaaliya’s typical arrangements so I can build that gulf between her and Sidge that the sexual / romantic tension can’t bridge and resolve.

There was silence in Silence shrouded the room.

Again, weak verb. “To be” verbs are fine, but often there are more descriptive words that will do the trick. Shrouded may or may not work but it has that finality I want.

These were a few of the changes I made along with adding a thread that ties everything together. A touchstone in the work which Sidge revisits at the end right as Kaaliya falls asleep in his arms and underscores the theme.

Next time – I’ll let you guys know what the crit group said and I’ll  introduce everyone to my favorite online submission calls and tracker website, Duotrope.

2 thoughts on “Still Unresolved Sexual Tension

  1. Tom Howard

    Wow. Excellent examples of your editing process. One thing I do – before the crit group or submitting it to Critters – is read my short story aloud. Somehow the mouth and ears pick up things the mind and eyes automatically correct.

    I also try to give it at least a week’s rest (and maybe more). I’ve started keeping my own list of “bugaboos.” I think our crit group might put together a master list. My personal ones are: just, some, very, really, that, smiled (I use it too often when I don’t want a speaking verb: Joe smiled, Jay smiled, every bloody body smiled), pronouns without clear reference, and showing AND telling. I’m (fairly) good at finding my own typos (the oral thing helps), but not the plot holes and fact checking. That’s where the crit group really comes in handy. I just can’t get in a distant enough orbit from the work to see the holes. Maybe if I let it rest a year.

    An editor recently asked me in an interview what my most embarrassing submission mistake was. I recalled when I hit send on a 1,000 word submission just as their 5,000 word minimum jumped out at me. Fortunately, they still bought it.

    I’ve had a couple situations where I sent it out BEFORE the crit group got ahold of it and had to beg the editor let me send a cleaner version after it sold. In one instance, the editors liked the earlier version. In one, they liked the second. That’s kind of embarrassing, but I’m glad they are open-minded about it.

    I hope you’re going to talk about the editing by the professional editors, too. Some make the story worse, most don’t touch it at all, and some really do an excellent job of improving the story. I don’t very often refuse to change something, but if I’m able to explain to the editor why I feel something needs to be unchanged, they don’t usually change it.

    Belinda just got back an edited copy of her vampire story where the editor had changed every it’s to its and got it completely backwards. We suspect some type of automated editor.

    Very interesting and very helpful post. See you day after tomorrow.

    Tom

    • Russell Linton

      Completely agree, Tom. I mention the reading aloud in that overly long blog post somewhere. It’s a cadence thing, a flow – any place I stumble, I know something is up.

      I haven’t had near as much exposure to working with editors pre-publication as you have, so I’m not sure I can add much. So far, all of them I’ve worked with have been top notch and only made suggestions that improved the piece. I have had to bat away a few suggested edits along the way but have yet to have a bad experience.

      Looking forward to seeing you at the Con, probably won’t be there until Friday evening but I’m sure we’ll cross paths.

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