Elyse is a short story I wrote in September 2014. The idea stemmed from a friendly competition we had at work: The goal was to write a short story which contained a certain theme or item. For Elyse it was a hand fan. Initially we set a very ambitious deadline of two weeks, but we quickly realized that this was just impossible. It took me about four weeks to complete the first draft.
After running it through our online writing group at the Reading Excuses forum, and a lot of editing, I finally ended up with a story of about 11500 words. I was a bit concerned about the slow beginning, but I was very happy with how the story developed and with the reveals. I didn’t really know how to further improve the story, so I submitted it to Writers of the Future back at the end of June 2015.
It took them 51 days to respond. According to The Grinder, that’s way below the average acceptance response time, so I suspect that David Farland – the head judge who first reviews all stories before sending them to the other judges – discarded it pretty quickly. David has some very fine writing advice out there and he repeatedly preaches how you have to start a short story in the middle, jumping right into the action. I guess the slow beginning was the end of it.
I have to say that my experience with Writers of the Future and David has been very positive. Apparently the team behind the contest changed the way they notify writers of the results: Rather than waiting for all stories to be judged, results are now sent out as they become available. I asked Joni Labaqui – the friendly Contest Director who sends out the emails – whether there was any way to receive feedback regarding my rejection. I thought her very busy and didn’t really expect an answer, but she did reply. As I thought, they don’t have to time to provide critique for everything that is entered, but instead she provided two documents about how to “boost your prose” and how to improve openings of stories. Nice!
I had been following David on Twitter for a while already, and I’ve known him to be friendly and approachable, so I tried getting feedback from him directly as well. And sure enough, he replied after a couple of days. Unfortunately, he told me that he’d have to go through the stories again, to tell me the reason for the rejection, and was just too busy at that time. He seemed really sorry for not being able to help and pointed out that the competition was really strong this quarter. I really appreciated that he took the time to send me that message.
I’m not the type to give up easily, so I sat down and did what I should have done before: I cut about 2500 words from the story.
During the process I looked at what I had written and thought, “which scene would be a good opening”? There was one in particular which I had wanted to put at the start of the story last year already, but back then I could not do it, because it would have broken the continuity of events. So I just deleted everything that came before it, including the slow beginning.
The hardest part was deleting a scene that I liked a lot, and that I thought was important to the story. But now that it’s gone, I realize that it wasn’t really necessary. Guess I still have a lot to learn when it comes to “killing your darlings”. 🙂
I submitted the new version of Elyse just the other day. I’m confident that it’s a better story now. Fingers crossed!
Do you have any experience with Writers of the Future? What’s your experience been like? I’d love to hear from you by email or in the comments.