Editing remains the top activity lately, though I’ve done my share of writing, too. I spent part of the week going back through some of my other WIPs (short stories, this time) and editing them as well. I’m always pleased when I revisit any of my WIPs, especially after I let a lot of time go by, to see the work with new eyes, which enables me to make the piece even better. My advice to anyone editing their own work is to put it away for a while after the first draft (at least a month, unless you’re on a deadline), the return to it. It makes all the difference as far as what the finished product turns out to be.
For example, this is a piece I began in January 2010 which I just edited for fun:
They've only known him as The American. He lived in the small pink bungalow as close to the shore as was sensible. At times, the tide lapped within six feet of his front door, leaving eddies still swirling in their wake. When the summer storms arrived, the structure appeared to pitch against the angry winds, but no matter how strong the gales pounded the shore, the bungalow stayed upright and true. At those times, The American could be seen sitting on his front stoop, rocking back and forth, watching the storms' anger, almost challenging them to wash him out to sea. For fifteen years, maybe more, the man and his shelter survived all comers and stood stronger after each battle.
The children from the neighboring towns dared each other all year long to say hello to him. Every once in a while, a brave soul or two would venture as far as the front door, but would lose their nerve before actually knocking, instead running away as though a ghost accosted them. The American could be seen standing on the front porch, surveying the hasty retreat of the brown-skinned urchins that tried to make contact with him.
Does the beginning make you want to learn more about this mysterious man?
Sometimes I like to indulge in an exercise of creating first lines for short stories (or longer works) just to see what my mind can conjure up. It certainly helps get the creative juices flowing. Here are the first lines I came up with this week (as always, these are raw and may not go anywhere):
I came to Santa Lucia de la Terra for only one reason: to die.
Wherever Tonia traveled, bad luck could be found sitting proudly in the sidecar.
Steven walked to the open window, stuck his head outside and witnessed the end of civilization.
Many knew Peter all too well and that made him a marked man, for no one in town wanted to see him alive by the next morning.
As the explosions grew ever closer, Crystal stood up in her Mustang convertible and viewed the Pacific for the last time.
Anxious to greet the day, Bob tore out of his driveway and plowed into the neighbor's '57 T-bird, ran over a garbage can, shifted into first and laid rubber all the way down Friendly Lane.
Life had a funny way of throwing curve balls at a person, as Priscilla discovered the night she returned home and found her husband and all her belongings gone.
Three days before, Terry stood on the very edge of taking his own life, but since he found the false wall in his house, he wanted to live forever.
The excruciating pain in his torn knee caused Jim to pass out, his head hitting the solid oak table as he fell and splitting open the back of his head.
Chambliss stood on the boardwalk, watching the vendors sell their kitschy wares, and wished that they notice him just once.
Armed with her last grenade and an overused baseball bat, Loretta realized that reinforcements weren't going to arrive in time, so she girded her courage and headed out to meet the invaders head-on.
Gideon slid back the hidden panel and stuck his hand inside the small compartment, then pulled out the paper tube he knew would be there, now yellowed with age and darkened by plant spores.
If you’ve never tried this before, definitely give it a go (and let me know how it turned out).
New Story Start
I woke up this morning with a title for a short story in my head, a bit of an odd thing, called “Monty McGillicuddy Is Dead.” I’ve laid out a basic plot and a snippet of the start:
Sundays are my designated do-nothing-but-watch-sports-and-nap days. So, in honor of that tradition, I was fast asleep during the last round of the Masters when the phone rang next to my head, jarring me awake.
"Hey, John, it's Dad. Are you in the middle of something?"
I rubbed my eyes and sat up to clear my head. "No, just watching golf. Anything wrong? You and Mom okay?"
"Sure, we're fine. No, I wanted to tell you something. I don't know if you remember him from school, but I just saw in the paper the Monty McGillicuddy is dead."
Monty McGillicuddy. I hadn't heard that name or even thought of him in at least ten years.
"Oh, sorry. Yeah, of course I remember Monty. How'd he die?"
"That's the thing. They don't say what he died from. But who cares, that jerk's dead and that's all that matters. You probably don't remember how he made your life a living hell for so long."
I chuckled. "Oh yeah, Pop, that's not something I'd be like to forget ever."
My dad laughed, too. "I suppose not. Well, it may be wrong for me to say it, but I'm glad he's dead. Seeing what he did to you, I hated him. And I don't hate anybody, you know."
That much was true. My father had unusual tolerance for just about everyone and for those he didn't, he usually reserved judgment, saving that privilege for someone else.
"I know, Pop. Look, thanks for the news. I'll check it out on the web."
I hung up the phone and walked over to my office. In a few minutes, I found a couple of obits and a piece on a midwestern law school website that discussed how Monty's sudden death was a "sad loss" and how he was an "honored member" of the faculty. So that's what happened to my old nemesis. For some reason, this revelation about his last occupation surprised me more than news of his demise. To think that Monty would be honored by anyone, the least of which being law students, caused me to laugh in spite of myself.
This is another story I just want to sit down and write, stopping all other WIPs, especially since the whole thing is more or less formed in my head. This is both a curse and a blessing, as I say (probably too often). There aren’t enough hours in the day, I tell ya!
So, with that little editorial comment, I’ll sign off. Wishing you a great week!