Fill Needed: Editing the Short Story Zero Draft

Rodeo clown Flint Rasmussen

Not Shown: The Main Character. Unless the editing takes a weird turn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, it’s done. The first draft of that short story I was wrangling with last week. And most of the week before. In the kind of twist that my brain loves, the winner of the Draft Cage Match was…a completely different story. This is the equivalent of, at the end of The Hunger Games, having the Punisher appear and gun down the last three competitors simultaneously. Cool? Maybe. But definitely unexpected.

But there’s a draft, and it’s done, and now I need to make it not suck.  Here’s my attack plan:

1) Fill in the holes. My zero drafts tend to be either really wandering or really sparse. This is the latter. About half of it is just dialogue at this point. I need to go back and backfill some of those gaps because, right now, they’re just talking heads. At least one of them has a head. The other might have none, or more than one. Hard to tell.

2) Continuity of Voice. I wrote first person this time, so I need to make sure that the viewpoint character’s voice is consistent throughout. No changing into a hard-drinking, hard-loving rodeo clown halfway through. Unless it’s really awesome. Then it’s okay.

3) Continuity of Rules: Working in speculative fiction is freeing—magic and science and warping the laws of physics, oh my!—but also oddly constricting. You need to know what the rules are before you break them, and then you need to break them consistently. This story concerns a binding contract and certain conditions that have to be fulfilled and loopholes within those rules. I miss one, then the premise falls apart.

4) Shiny!* Time to break out the polish and get to buffing. Take out the nicks, grind off the unnecessary rough edges**, make it slick enough so that when the gut-punch comes, it’s that much more unexpected.

There’s a lot of work to be done, especially considering the state of the draft, but now there’s a place to start. That’s all a zero draft is: a point on the map to say ‘you are here’ so you can figure out how to get where you want. Now I’ve got to get to work.

What’s that, you say? You can hear something under the floorboards? Oh, that’s nothing. Nothing important, anyway. It’s certainly not the butchered corpses of the last three drafts trapped under there, trying to get out so they can force me to finish them. No. Nothing of that sort.

…Where’s the flamethrower?

*I may have been watching Firefly again lately.
**While leaving in all the necessary rough edges, of course. It’s the difference between a skin condition and a signature scar.

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