making last minute changes

BERT AND BETTY: The evolution of a short story…

I had a nice surprise yesterday. A short story titled, BERT AND BETTY, came in as a runner up for Ravenous Rendezvous. This was one of those stories I’d had floating around in my head for a long time but didn’t have time to actually write. And when I received the call about the short story contest, I decided to take the weekend and finally do it. I’d been working on deadlines since last June and I didn’t want the story to suffer because I wasn’t focused on the plot. But it was snowing outside, there wasn’t much to do that weekend, and the story started to flow in a way that doesn’t always happen. I already had a few goals and I felt as though I knew the characters well. I wanted them to be ordinary people taking a routine flight, but I also wanted something extraordinary to happen to them while they were on that flight.

When the first draft was finished, I felt that something was missing. The characters were okay, but they lacked something I couldn’t pigeonhole. You know when something just isn’t right. So I decided to take a break and think about it for a day or so. Bert and Betty were originally written as two strangers. He’s the good looking, innocent divorced guy and she’s the well seasoned business woman who always takes what she wants. And when she sees Bert in the airport, she goes after him without thinking twice. There’s also another twist to the plot that takes the story to another level, and that part was fine. It’s just that Bert and Betty were flat and I wanted them to be true romantics.

I was almost ready to give up on the story and not enter the contest, and then I had one of those waves of inspiration that tend hit while I’m either driving or jogging and there’s no paper around to write it down. Why did Bert And Betty have to be strangers? Why couldn’t they be a married couple pretending to be strangers? I had to re-write the story several times in order to get the facts right; I didn’t have much time because there was a short deadline and I was working on another novel at the same time. But after several re-writes and a lot of black coffee, I finally felt satisfied with the changes. And Bert and Betty went from being single strangers to a happily married couple with their own secret game of romance and intrigue.

The point of this story is that I’ve learned to wait before submitting when I have a feeling something isn’t working. The story might be neat and clean and ready to go, but if there’s a nagging feeling that it could be changed in some way I hold off and think about it for a while. I’ve had things published that editors thought were fine, but I wasn’t happy with the final product. And that can haunt you for a long time. So I’ve learned to wait before submitting, because the solution to the problem usually comes sooner or later.