I’m currently editing one of my ‘Story a day’ stories, trying to get the draft version into a final copy that I am happy with. It’s not an easy task: the main conflict surrounds two sisters, one of whom is bringing up the other’s daughter after a teenage pregnancy. The action takes place seven years on, just after their mother (the catalyst of the ‘sibling adoption’ plan) has died and they are arguing about whether or not the truth should be revealed to the young child.
I’m having some difficulty making it as sharp as it should be. I guess it’s partly my fault for creating such a big issue for such a short narrative. Yet, I wanted it to be just a snap-shot: I wanted it to have dramatic tension and immediacy – the reader is seeing the result of years of anguish and secrecy within a family that is coming to a head after a painful loss. I’m happy with the concept, but I just don’t seem able to polish it well enough to express the finality of the bond between these two sisters and the tacit agreement that the skeleton will be kept in the closet, possibly indefinitely.
I’ve already increased from the 1,500 words that sketched out the original idea to a more reasonable 3,000 words that carries the power that I desired the narrative to have. I also believe I have finally got the balance right with the narration in the present tense whilst providing enough of the back story to explain the missing pieces. When I read it over, I’m much happier with it than I was to begin with, yet there is still come work to be done on sharpening the sentence structure and ensuring the right words are used to describe the situation and the emotions of the two, very different, sisters.
I found the editing process much easier last month, on a simpler story that had more development to it in the first draft – ergo, I didn’t have to do much re-writing prior to editing. This time, however, the initial piece of writing was just the bare bones of the characters and the situation that caused them conflict: it’s taken me two more drafts to realise the mother was the one who encouraged one daughter to take on the responsibility of the other daughter’s child. It’s also taken me until my third draft to feel that I’ve explained enough for readers to understand what has happened in the past, and why this argument is occuring on this day, in this way. It’s challenging to ensure that you’ve done that as a writer when you have created the characters and the story and so always have them to fill in the blanks at the back of your mind. Fortunately, my Mum has become my proof-reader and editor: and she’s been a great help in identifying questions that still needed to be answered in the narrative.
If I still don’t feel comfortable with the changes made by the end of the day I think I might put it way until another few weeks have passed and return to it then, with some distance and clarity restored. It’s certainly providing me with some good practice for the day when I’ll need to edit the current novel – not every section is going to be easy to rectify in post-production so it’s good to identify the elements I might struggle with to prepare me for that mammoth task. Still, sometimes what you need is a break, enough time to let go of the preciousness that might be felt over the original attempt and distance enough to be objective about how to improve on something you worked so hard on for so long.