Revision is difficult. To make a story better, stronger, to add the words that round out characters, to remove the words that obfuscate. This takes time and patience, commitment and an understanding of when to go on and when to stop.
How do you know when your revision works and makes your story better? How do you know when it doesn’t and you need to try something else?
A few months ago I posted about creativity and my toddler. In short, while traveling overseas my young son became sleep deprived and hysterical and the only way I could sooth him was telling him a story about Roger the Hedgehog.
He enjoyed the idea of Roger slurping up slugs. Even more he enjoyed when I put him in the story and had him carry the hungry Roger in a bucket from garden to garden in search of slugs. The story got longer with each retelling and the slurping louder until dogs fled and birds hid.
Then his sister heard us. Where her brother would happily toss a slug down Roger’s fictional gullet she is a serious and gentle child who last year brought a slug home from school so she could put it in our garden and ‘keep it safe’. Fortunately her British grandmother was visiting and had a long talk with her grand-daughter. The upshot was that the slug went back to school (after a suitably safe place there was identified) and I didn’t have to watch her new pet eat its way through my lettuce.
She was horrified by Roger and her brother’s imaginary shenanigans. She asked that Roger become a vegetarian and then sat down and waited for the new story.
Our Toddler adores his big sister and wants to please her so he insisted I try. Roger’s diet became full of ruffage and carrots. I tried, I really did. Instead of slurps there were munches, Roger and his buddy searched for the sweetest clovers and crunchiest acorns, they spoke to rabbits.
It was awful. Dull and awful.
With the absence of the slugs the heart of the story was gone. The munching never really satisfied his toddler sensibilities, he wanted slurps and slugs.
How many times have we found ourselves in this situation? We revise, we change the story, we get a new idea (or, as it was in my case, a new idea is thrust upon you) and try to make it work. When you look at your revision and think ‘This stinks.’ I suggest you stop. Stop making an insectivore into a vegetarian. Go in a different direction. When his sister joins us for a Roger story now instead of eating they find hidden treasure, rescue birds and ride bicycles.
And when we’re alone Roger still eats slugs.