So you’ve been asked to rewrite a story.
a) Throw a strop because no one, absolutely no one has any right to tell you how your story should begin, end, whatever.
b) Panic. You don’t understand what they want you to do. Panic some more.
c) Get on with it, do the best job you can and resubmit.
d) Put it to one side and worry about it later, like next year sometime or maybe when you’ve got a bit more experience or more ink in your printer or when you’ve got more time.
First of all if you are asked to rewrite a story or just give it a little tweak it is not a guarantee of publication, but the fact that you have been asked at all means that the editor likes your work and thinks it could be publishable so you are In With A Chance! Being asked to rewrite something by an editor is a Big Thing! A very Big Thing!
I’m trying to think of cases when I’ve been asked to rewrite something and why. One that springs to mind – and it is probably one of the most common reasons for me over the years – is when the editor likes the story, but one of the main characters is too unsympathetic. If you’re going to make someone bad, then give them a reason for being bad. This all depends on the publication of course; some are more willing to take out-and-out baddies than others!
We all know people in Real Life who are thoroughly despicable for no other reason than – well they are just thoroughly despicable. But we’re not always writing about Real Life are we?
I have had endings that are too abrupt and I am probably guilty here of checking my word count and thinking Oh Hell, 250 words left to wind up the story! In this case, I’d sort out the ending then go back through the story and cut elsewhere to get the length right. You can always find surplus to cut if you have to.
I had to tweak part of a story once where I had a woman moving the dead body of the man who had been abusing her until she retaliated and killed him. It was pointed out to me that she wouldn’t be able to shift a heavy body all on her own, so I found a handy trolley or some other thing with wheels – I don’t rightly remember now, but it helped shift the body and sold the story.
Recently I rewrote a story because I’d simply carried it on too long. It should have ended two thirds of the way through, so I chopped off the surplus scenes and wrote a few sentences to wind it up. Sounds so easy doesn’t it? Well no one ever said it was easy, but it’s a lot easier than writing a whole new story from scratch.
Maybe you have to make it a bit longer. Remember it’s always easier to put on weight than take it off. I had to find 500 words recently to fatten a story up.
There are times when I do b). I don’t really understand what they want me to do. Usually if you read through the story and get to know it again, it will become obvious. But what if it doesn’t? In this case I’d rewrite (always keeping the original) and ask my husband (bless him) to read through both and give an opinion. Sometimes you really do just need someone else’s input or maybe it’s just confirmation that you’re not as daft as you think you are.
If you’re tempted to do d) don’t. Don’t rush your rewrite, but do make it a priority. The door is open and if you don’t go in or at least poke your nose round, it may well slam in your face. While you’re prevaricating Someone Else might write the same story but better and by the time you get your rewrite in, Someone Else has beaten you to it. Either that or the magazine decides not to run fiction any more.
What if you rewrite and it comes back, still not right? Try again! And the third time? Keep going. What if it comes back again with a Thanks but No Thanks? Put it down to experience and try not to hurt yourself too much as you gnash your teeth.
And for anyone considering option a) - I'd just like to say that when I've been asked to do a rewrite it has always improved the story.
And right now I have gone into a cold sweat because I have a feeling that I was asked to rewrite something and I made a note in my notebook. You should see the current page, it’s covered in things crossed out, three brief ideas for stories, four rejections to be sorted out and a shopping list for next time I go internet shopping. There are several pages of pencilled scribbles courtesy of my granddaughters. What if somewhere in that mess of a notebook there is an Important Note that I have somehow overlooked?
But that’s a subject for another post one day perhaps. Paranoia!!