I started “Test Tube Beneficiary” on January 13, 2008, by creating a project for it in Scrivener and typing out the basic idea for the problem facing the protagonist, and the solution. I thought it would be fairly short, and relatively easy to write — a nice diversion from the novel when I needed a break.
I finished the first draft on March 22. It came in at 12,210 words, firmly in “novelette” territory, at least according to the categories recognized by the SFWA. After my second pass through it, it dropped to 12,100. After I made changes based on suggestions from Mrs. Unfocused and more of my own edits, it grew slightly, to 12,400 words.
That’s where things stood when I printed it out on April 29, for the final proofread. I went through it over the next couple of days, made a dozen or so picky changes, and handed it to Mrs. Unfocused.
She read through it on Saturday afternoon. When she was done, she asked me a question about the actions of one of the supporting characters. She didn’t understand the motivation of this character, because if he did what I had him do in the story, shouldn’t he also do X? Having that character do X, unfortunately, would have required me to completely change the ending, and would have defeated one of the core goals I had for the story.
The problem was that she was absolutely correct. I had taken a shortcut: to avoid going through a lot of rigamarole that wouldn’t be any fun to write and might be boring to read, I had forced one of my characters to do something completely contrary to his interests, and then refused to carry that behavior through to its logical conclusion. It had nagged at me a little when I did it, but I didn’t think too much about it, and who was going to notice, anyway?
My wife, apparently. It wasn’t until her third reading of the story, but it was obvious once she asked the question that another reader could certainly have the same question the first time through. I had to drag myself kicking and screaming to the decision, but I finally made up my mind that I had to change the character’s actions in the story in order to preserve the ending, which meant writing out the rigamarole I wanted to avoid.
Sunday night I plugged another 800 words into the middle of the story; it’s now at 13,200 words. I now need to go back through it and fix all the places where those changes ripple through, which I will try to get done this weekend.
The thing that bothers me the most is that if this is what I’m going through with TTB, the editing process for Meet the Larssons is going to really, really suck.
Wow, rigamarole is really a word.
I just did a second edit of my 1,800 word story with lots of edits and had the same thought. I love editing, it means that you’re skilled enough to find problems which means that you’re making your story better.
But it will be a full time job editing a novel. And I surely will need to add stuff in-between somewhere after its complete; just like you did.
Eh, at least you have a wife who’s critical. Good luck with the short story.
“It wasn’t until her third reading of the story, but it was obvious once she asked the question that another reader could certainly have the same question the first time through.”
I’m trying to decide if I’ve been insulted. You know, some other (more discerning) reader could have picked it up on the first go-round; it took me THREE times to notice it. I feel compelled to defend myself by clarifying that I actually wondered about the issue a little bit after the second read–it just took me time to decide it was important enough to mention.
So, Mr. Unfocused, I’m going to attribute that rather unflattering depiction of my late-blooming insight to your lingering resentment over my having noticed the issue in the first place, and generously choose to forgive you. Perhaps you can say something delightful about me (a very small bit will do) on another post. I would give you some suggestions for appropriate compliments, but that would probably be taking the role of editor a tad too far.
TTB is good, by the way; definitely thought-provoking. And I’m a pretty tough audience.
I think I was supposed to notice the Mrs.’s comment several hours ago. Oops.
I wasn’t actually thinking of a reader who might be more discerning than the Mrs., just one who is more critical, whose very job depends on poking holes in the work of poor novice writers: the editor of whatever magazine I send TTB to.
Did I mention how great you looked this morning?
Don – rigamarole is a word, even if the wordpress.com spellchecker doesn’t recognize it. It doesn’t recognize “WordPress,” either, so I’m not too impressed. And yes, I’m lucky that the Mrs. is both an experienced editor and willing to read a 12,000-word story three times to help me get it right. And ravishingly beautiful. Did I mention that?
It’s alright because while editing my short story there were some things that were bugging me, but I couldn’t put my finder on it. Or maybe I knew and was just ignoring it.
But I think my story had gotten to the point where it was getting so much better after the edits that the other stuff I was ignoring were showing through more.
Rigamarole was a favorite word in our house when I was a kid!
Sounds like your wife has a good eye. Make sure you buy her something nice when you sell the story.