Here are my thoughts on the suggestions from the critique partners for the short story that appeared Sunday.
First, CPs give their input, partially on what they liked and partially on what they think a story should have to appeal to readers. The may suggest a section of a story come out, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad or poorly written; it may just mean it doesn’t fit where you put it. (It may find a home somewhere else, in a different story or book.)
Needless to say, two big sections they questioned, I want to keep…
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If I didn’t like the sections, I wouldn’t have written them – but I knew CP-1 would say it wasn’t needed. (I was a little surprised that the second CP-2 didn’t agree.)
Had they both said it needed to go, I’d have cut the section.
It’s simple: I trust these people.
If they both agree on something, I probably ought to do it.
Here’s the hard part – for me and for you as an author.
The backstory bit, where we learn the MC and his friend are loan scammers… I like the idea of these guys coming from somewhere else and having a story to them that was more than just what happened to them in New Orleans. I like that they have girlfriends and children and were on a vacation and were basically bank robbers.
I don’t disagree with the comment that it’s probably too much for short story. I’m not known for being brief, but did I need all that?
Now, here’s the problem:
- If you read the story for the first time and it is without that section (the “bank robbing”), I don’t know that you would feel the story was missing anything.
- It’s equally likely that people who first read the story with the bad loan information in there, will feel that it’s a little thin without it.
That’s just poisoning the well.
They read the with the bad loan section in it, and if they liked the story overall, they’ll feel the bad loan section should stay. If they read the story with it in there and they don’t like that section, they’ll say it slows the story down.
Both are correct.
So how do you decide what to do?
You look at what’s appropriate for the genre.
Here, we have two conflicting ideas. First, it’s said this is too much information for a short story. Since that’s the “genre,” so to speak, then it should come out.
However, often a story broadcasts where it’s going before it gets there, and the reader can correctly guess the ending. That’s no fun. For that reason, a couple of “head fakes” can go into the story. The bit about the two children fighting was a small one, as was mentioning the possibility of the older child going out dancing and there being drugs in the clubs.
The bad loan part is kind of like that. It’s information to make the characters three dimensional, but it also could go away pretty easily. It’s pretty telly, almost an info dump, and it’s not technically relevant to the main story.
If it helped make the reader who always guesses the ending NOT be able to guess the ending, then it stays.
If it makes readers want to stop reading, then it goes.
What to do?
I vote to leave it in, but only because I have a 50-50 vote right now.
If a bunch of readers of this blog all say to take it out, it’s gone. I aim to please. I’m a bit too close to the story to be objective, so I defer to the will of the people. I’m secure in the knowledge that I wrote a good short story that, with or without that section, is a good read.
The other suggestions about tweaking the information about the little sister and the babysitter, that has merit, too. The kids are only relevant so that you know they are real people who are young and, for the most part, are innocent. So that should help the surprise at the end.
It was a great suggestion by the second critique partner to add more emotion to the main character once he finds out he’s been ambushed.
Normally I would do that. I might have figured that out without her input, but I’m not sure.
What I was going for there was, once the surprise is happening, I wanted the ending to come quickly so that it heightened the surprise. I didn’t want to drag it out. That’s a style thing and it might not have been the right decision. Again, if a bunch of readers feel it lacked emotion at the end, I’ll add it!
Ultimately, little bits of information here and there should help make a story three dimensional without slowing it down.
The biggest goal for me was to set up a macabre story and have a surprise ending.
I don’t think a lot of people saw that coming. Mission accomplished.