Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rejection Made Me Kill The Aunt


I received a very nice rejection letter just before Christmas for a story I'd written just over a month ago. Because of it I killed an aunt.

First things first.  What made the letter so nice?  Three things.  1) It was a personal letter.  2) It stated the reason the story wasn't accepted and 3) The editor was right.

I didn't see the problem when I wrote the story and sent it off.  Basically, the editor said the story didn't get started quickly enough.  The opening paragraph caught her attention, and then it stalled.  Eventually the story picks up, but by that point too many readers will have dropped out.

I follow Heinlein's Rules as much as possible.  Horribly paraphrased, Rule 3 is to not continue rewriting a piece except to editorial demand.  Now, this was a rejection so I can't resubmit the piece to this publisher.  But rather than just sending it elsewhere, I took a closer look.

I spent a good portion of the beginning writing about a character that I really liked.  She's the aunt of the protagonist with a kleptomania problem (but don't worry, she's taking something for it.)  She hates her nephew's uncle and I thought this would add tension to the story.

But she doesn't really do anything.  She's there.  She bickers.  She starts to steal something but is stopped.  Finally, I have her leave the scene she's in so the story can progress.

And that should have had bells going off in my head.  My klepto was stealing story time from everybody else.

This wasn't all that had to be fixed, but the delete key fixed the biggest issue.  And you know what?  I didn't have to write a single word to to explain anything.  Every reference to her, every line of dialogue, all of it worked without her being in it.

And I really liked her.  Maybe Stephen King was right.  "Kill your darlings."