Revising One Story Several Ways

My revision process is messy because I often start writing from inspiration, and then I keep going. When I write from an inspired phrase or image, I come up with creative ideas, but that writing often lacks order. So when I revise my creative work, I spend the bulk of my revision on the nuts and bolts of writing, focusing on craft features like plot and structure.

Using some of the suggestions in Laura Gibbs‘ microfiction OER, I decided to play with revision using a story I developed this past week while attending the Digital Pedagogy Lab.

Revising a #100words story requires a different set of priorities than revising 2,000 or 5,000 words. In a microfictional text, for me personally, I focus on leaving the reader with an impression of the story, so the images need to stand out. You know when you read a poem, and an image comes back to you days, weeks, or even years after you read it? If not, you should read more poems! A vivid image can change the way I see ordinary objects, abstract concepts, and even the world I live in.

This past week at the DPL, I had been wanting to write a six-word story, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. First off, syntax. How do you make six words sing? Second, action. I couldn’t figure out the story I wanted to tell, but I finally wrote a six word story by condensing the #100words story I told earlier this week. Once I started, I figured I could keep going, so I rewrote the #100words story Engulfed in #6words, #25words, and #50words, making sure to keep the main story in each one. I’m not sure which version I like the most—probably the original but the #6words version is a close second. Here’s what I came up with as I revised today:

Engulfed (original version, 100 words)

She smelled the flames before she saw the smoke. Lightning had zig-zagged across the desert mesa, igniting an abandoned house. Smoke seeped into her home through her cooler vents. There were no fire hydrants in the village. Volunteer firefighters trotted their trucks up the hill past her house, one-by-one. They emptied their reservoirs, then turned around one-by-one to circle down the hill for refilling. She sat on her front porch, watching smoke descend over her home. The kingdom of heaven is like that, unto treasure hid in a field. The sky cracked open, and rain poured from the sky.

Engulfed #6words version

Lightning ignites as sky cracks, heaven.

Engulfed #25words version

Lightning strikes an abandoned house. Neighbors wearing bathrobes and spandex gape at fire trucks. They are secretly thankful for being spared. Rain gushes from heaven.

Engulfed #50words version

Lightning bolts strike mesa dirt, igniting an abandoned home. Firefighters hamper the flames, one-by-one refilling their water trucks at the bottom of the hill. Smoke seeps into our home. You watch the sky for signs of rain and pray for mercy. Heaven is like this, treasure hidden in a field.

My revision process is messy, but it’s mine, and I love it anyway. What are some of your favorite methods of revising your writing?

3 thoughts on “Revising One Story Several Ways

  1. Thanks for laying bare your revision process! The 6- and 25-word versions are so powerful. You did a great job of paring down to the essential images that make an impact and leave the impression of the story with the reader.

    I need to do this with one of my stories to round out DPL this afternoon!


  2. Hello! I’m with This American Life and wanted to touch base about your excellent story “The Man Who Came to Dinner” from episode 346. I tried submitting a message through your site’s message page, but I’m not sure if you received it. I can be reached at jenn (at) thislife (dot) org. Thanks so much! -Jenn

    Liked by 1 person

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