Last week I shared the completely unedited first draft of my short story, typos, misspellings, and all. This week I’m thrilled to share the self-edited draft! Check out the updated story below, and then stick around for my commentary on the editing process and the changes I made.
Today would be the day Jane’s dreams came true. She could feel the certainty of it in the thick, Florida humidity that wrapped around her like a warm blanket. Almost ten years ago to the day she’d first heard the tale of the lost ship Clementine and its hoard of stolen Spanish doubloons.
Jane ran her hand along the chunk of coarse wood on the table, the first piece they’d dug up. Aged. Weathered. Testing at the university lab marked it for the right time period. It had given them the evidence they needed to greenlight their permits and approvals for further excavation.
She bit her lip to hide the goofy grin threating to spread across her face. Finally. Finally, they’d uncover the wreck and its legendary fortune.
“Jane!” Adam, her partner in this venture, called to her. Excitement laced his voice as he waved her over to the area he and Miguel had been scanning with the metal detector.
They’d uncovered just the port side of the ship so far, buried under layers of sandy soil and grown over with brush. Historical records claimed the ship was lost in a storm over 100 years ago. A fierce Gulf hurricane could have smashed it on these shores with ease, dragging half the seafloor over it.
The blazing sun beat down on Jane as she raced through the marshy ground to their dig site. Broken edges of half-rotten planks, like massive shark teeth, bowed out from the muck. The ping and beep of the metal detector in Adam’s hand grew louder, as did her racing heart. She slid over the earthen wall they’d constructed to keep the tide at bay, uncaring of the dirt and muck that smeared onto her clothes.
“What have you found?” Jane gasped, nearly breathless in anticipation.
The rest of their crew gathered around, waiting with eager eyes for the treasure soon to be uncovered.
“We thought you should have the honors.” Adam grinned.
Miguel held out a short spade and nodded to the shallow hole at his feet.
“It’s reading as iron,” he continued. “Just a few inches down and large.”
“Iron…” Not gold. Jane couldn’t hide the press of her lips as she took the tool.
“No, but it could be—”
“A chest,” they blurted at the same time. The iron of a chest could shield the signal of gold below.
Jane’s momentary disappointment vanished into a blinding smile.
Four chests of stolen gold. The treasure they’d been searching for. She’d finally make her mark on history. Maybe get a display in the Smithsonian. And the gold! Oh, the expeditions it could fund… Once they repaid the loans for this one of course.
Jane knelt next to the hole. The spade shook in her hand as started to scrape away a layer of thick mud. Then the next.
Slowly, carefully, she dug the last few inches toward her goal. The air hummed with anticipation as her team murmured around her, shifting and craning to be the first to see whatever she would uncover. Salt teased her tongue as sweat rolled down her face. A mosquito buzzed in her ear. None of it mattered.
The spade struck metal.
Jane’s head snapped up, locking eyes with Adam across the hole. His blinding grin matched her own.
The world faded away as her focus limited to the object she painstakingly uncovered.
Dark. Large. Slightly rounded.
More mud. More digging.
Too big to be the fittings on a chest.
Sound returned as her heart slowed. Heat beat against her back as heavy as her disappointment.
“Cannonball?” Adam wiped at the sweat on his forehead.
Jane nodded. “Almost certainly.”
“Well… that’s great! Another piece of history uncovered.” He grinned, always the optimist.
Jane forced a smile in return, but her chest ached. Doubt slipped in, taunting her over another potential failure. She blinked against the sunlight that swarmed in as the others returned to excavate the rest of the wreck.
“Pass me that metal detector,” Jane said, rising to her feet and dusting off her pants. “We need to scan every foot of this site.”
Every beep and squeal of the detector sent Jane’s heart racing, her hopes soaring toward the smattering of white clouds above. This spot. This was it. Until she looked at the small screen on the device. Not gold. Another cannonball. Some chain. Nails.
They’d found everything they expected, except the treasure.
Miguel’s hesitant call sent her hopes soaring to the clouds. Until she saw the deep frown etched on his face where he crouched next to a section of the wooden hull.
She crossed the site to Miguel, dread building as he shook his head.
“I’m sorry, miha.” He nodded toward the section of the boat he’d uncovered.
He didn’t need to tell her the reason for his dour expression. Three letters stood out, carved deep into the wood with hints of dark paint still clinging to their boards.
I. N. D.
The rest remained buried, but it didn’t matter. Her shoulders slumped; her throat grew thick. Dirty, worn nails dug into her palms as she wrestled away her disappointment.
It wasn’t the Clementine.
Somewhere along these shores lay the ship of her dreams. Buried. Almost forgotten. But not by Jane.
Another day. Another dig.
She’d find it.
The Editing Process
One of the best aspects of #WriterinMotion is seeing the process that authors go through to edit and polish their work. With that in mind, I wanted to share the details of my editing process and what I changed since the first draft of this story.
Step 1: The read-through
Before I make any changes, I take a fresh read-through of my work and make notes about things that I want to improve, change, cut out, etc. As I do that, I typically correct any obvious typos I see as well. Some people will say that’s a waste of time since those words may be rewritten or deleted anyway; however, I cannot read a mistake in my own work and just leave it there. If I see it, I have to fix it, even if I’m probably going to delete it later. In this short story, some of those changes included obvious typos, italicizing the ship name, and fixing certain inappropriate word choices (such as where I used ‘expedition’ instead of ‘excavation’).
Step 2: The opening
A good opening is key to any story. In my first draft, I just wrote what came to mind, but while editing, I wanted to step the opening up a notch. There are a few things I try to establish in the first few lines of any story (no matter the length): (1) Who is the MC? (2) What do they want? (3) What questions/hints do I want to place in the reader’s mind? The first two are fairly obvious, but the third may not be. One way to intrigue readers and keep them reading is to make them want to know more. One of the best ways to do that is for the story to build questions in their mind that they’ll want answers to. In this case, my first line now reads “Today would be the day Jane’s dreams came true.” I am hoping this will cause readers to wonder “What is Jane’s dream?”. Little things like that should build tension and intrigue immediately to hook people into the story (hopefully!).
Step 3: Character depth
Characters drive my stories. Without understanding them, I cannot write. While this story idea randomly popped into my head once I saw the prompt, my MC has been floating around in my head for a few months. One day she’ll be the lead in my Persephone and Hades retelling [An archeologist and treasure hunter participates in a local ritual to ask protection from the God of Death before setting out on an excavation with her team. When the mountain literally comes down on top of her, the God of Death pulls her into his domain. One problem–she’s still alive.] Anyhow, Jane is determined to make her mark on history and prove herself. Her need to do so is tied to her self-worth and she won’t give up until she’s done it. She grew up reading tales of lost treasure, historical mysteries, and of course, pretending to be a female Indiana Jones. Those childhood memories led her pursue a career in archeology and spend her own time and money (when she can’t get a grant or sponsorship) tracking down her dreams. Speaking of money, Jane is a realist as well as a dreamer. She knows that finding lost treasure could mean a big payday and the ability to fund even more expeditions. The Clementine is the key to not only that dream, but unlocking future ones. Her determination is such a strong trait that it is actually a weakness for her, never letting her rest and leading her down multiple dead end paths. Hopefully some of these traits come out to readers within my current draft. Though, it’s hard to put in much in less than 1000 words!
Step 4: Fact-checking and realism
There’s a huge factual error in my first draft. Did you catch it? And no, it’s not related to the Clementine, that’s a completely made-up shipwreck. In the first draft, Adam’s metal detector gives a non-ferrous reading, and then I mention that they find an iron cannonball. Y’all, iron IS ferrous. The presence of iron makes something ferrous. And I knew this… and I still got it wrong in my first draft. Not just once, more than once! Ugh, so embarrassing! This is why it’s important to fact-check. Whether your story is set in our world or a fantasy world, make sure your elements and references are accurate for that world. One of the reasons I initially mentioned metal detecting and a ‘non-ferrous’ reading, is that I wanted it to read authentic to the modern treasure hunting experience. Permits and approvals are mentioned for the same reason. Very rarely can you just start digging, even when you have a good theory (as all treasure hunters, including Jane, do) about where something is located. You have to find some basic evidence, you have to get approvals, and it usually takes a long time (not unlike publishing). That said, this is a short story and I also want it to be relatable to the reader. I left the permits and approvals in, but removed the ferrous references and just stuck to specific metals, which most sophisticated metal detectors can pin point.
Step 5: Setting the scene
I’ll admit to not having a clear picture in my head of Jane’s excavation until I finished the first draft. It took writing it for me to fully visualize what it looked like. As such, I spent some time in my revisions adjusting my descriptions of their excavation to help readers get a feel for the setting. Thick southern humidity. Bright sunlight. Heat. Sweat. Mosquitos. Marsh. Hopefully all of that comes through and pulls readers right onto the Florida coast with our heroine. This is another area where I also wanted to focus on realism. Treasure hunting is a dirty, sweaty, and exhausting business, and I wanted to give the feel of that in this piece.
Step 6: Pacing and flow
This is a short story, but even so, pacing is important. I tried to cut unnecessary lines where I could and weave in the backstory and world building rather than having large chunks of text that would slow the pace. This is an area of weakness for me and likely still needs more work, but it’s improved over the first draft. Another of my goals here was to shorten the word count. While we expanded the upper limit for this project to 1000 words, the original goal was 500–yikes! I’m at 880 with this draft. Hopefully my CPs can help me tighten it even more.
Step 7: Reader experience
My goal in this short story is to take readers on the emotional ride of a treasure hunt. Excitement. Anticipation. And of course, disappointment. Why don’t they find the treasure at the end? For me this goes back to realism. Most treasure hunts end in disappointment. However, a life-long dreamer and hunter like Jane will keep going regardless. This is evidenced by her view at the very end that even though this hunt failed, one day she’ll find the treasure. My goal is that readers feel that thrill of adrenaline and excitement followed by disappointment with a little glimmer of hope and optimism at the end. Based on the feedback I received, I feel like this went over well in the first draft, so I tried to maintain this element throughout the revisions.
Step 8: Tightening the prose
This is my line-edit pass where I look for ways to improve upon how the sentences are written. This includes removing filters and other unnecessary words, considering alternate phrasings, removing redundancies, making sure metaphors make sense, etc.
Step 9: The proofread
Once I’ve made all the changes I want and am happy with the story, I take one final read through to correct any grammatical and spelling issues that I find. Unfortunately, I sometimes have trouble seeing the errors in my own work, so some errors will still slip through.
My CPs get their hands on this short story now to help me find further ways to improve it. How will it change and evolve as a result of their feedback? You’ll have to wait until next week to find out!