April Revision: Fiction

Three revised fiction pieces. This post features references to two BBC news stories. But the real selling point is that I’ll tell you about one of the worst stories I’ve written in the past year. That’s up first:

Two Girls Stolen: Working title, not working hard enough. And terrible piece, really. In the middle of writing this I thought there was a bit of brilliance to the characters and situations. I thought the story was fantastic! It isn’t. I know, because I just trudged through a chop chop chop kind of revision and still ended up with a Jodi Picoult* wannabe. You tell me if it’s something Jodi Picoult would write, if she were sitting at a stoplight, listening to a BBC news bulletin about two kids found in the Roma community, guessed to be missing British children:

That’s it. Really. Except I made the two girls from Wisconsin, gave them to a child trafficking ring before they were brought home by foster parents who realized their foster kids were actually missing children; and then I stayed with the families for another decade, sussing the emotional wringing of reuniting with family but missing foster parents and and and. It is a really bad piece.

But when I wrote it, oh, I thought I was on to something. Give points to waiting a month or two or three before revising: you see the junk. I revised to see if I could salvage anything. I can think of only one way this piece might be salvageable. I’ll let you know when I play around.

Jake: I like not naming my fiction. This piece is a shout-out to another BBC interview I heard. The reporter was speaking with a man who’d helped rescue people during the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi; the reporter asked this man if he thought of himself as a hero. Of course, the man answered no.

What else could he have said? I put a note in my phone: Can a hero admit they are a hero? And then I stumbled my way around, finding a character named Jake, his time and place. Jake is a muralist who comes to Kuwait to paint, gets caught in an attack, helps rescue, admits he is a hero, and gets slammed. This was as far as I’d gotten when I began revising the piece. I revised, hoping an ending would come to me. It did: I took a creative George Saunders-ish leap and then made my husband read the whole thing. He liked it.

David: I need some new boy names. Seriously. I wrote this piece nearly three years ago. David is a young soldier serving in Iraq. Near the end of his first tour, he knows he will die during his second. I remember sitting at my in-laws’ kitchen table typing my way to an end. When I was done, the whole thing was forty single-spaced pages. Because I dream about publishing a book, I was vain enough to reformat the piece into two-column landscape and got around seventy book pages. Ish.

But a third of the way to novel length or not, most of David had to go.

I avoided the piece for a long time. I’d open the file or remember a couple promising scenes, but not until this month did I make myself revise. I read through first, without touching. Then I thought I might die at the amount of work ahead. I swept my cursor down the entire first two pages and deleted. Felt better. I cut entire subplots. I tightened sentences. I changed the direction of one relationship. I changed the ending.

The piece is now nineteen pages.

Both Jake and David will get another go. I think both pieces work but I’ll wait another month or so before I revisit.


*Oh, I loved me some Jodi Picoult at one time. But after reading a dozen, you get the sense she rocks on wrenching twists. Of course, you read what I’ve got so far and you’ll get the sense I rock on traditional boys’ names and BBC stories.

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