It’s week two of Writer in Motion. This week’s goal is to self-edit and revise the first draft of the short story we wrote last week. If you missed it, you can read my unedited first draft here.
Before I reveal the revised story, I want to take you through my process.
Step 1: Read and take notes
Before I jump into a round of edits, I always take a fresh, full read of the work to be edited, whether it’s a short story or a full manuscript. I make it a point to try and avoid edited while I go (other than fixing small typos and such). Instead, I make notes in a separate document on things I want to change, questions for myself, possible additions, etc. When I’m working on a manuscript, this is when I create my reverse outline, right after the first draft and before I jump into edits. What is a reverse outline? Well, it’s a scene-by-scene outline of the book which captures details such as major plot events, impact on the character(s), information revealed, whose introduced, significant plot points, timeline, etc. I didn’t create one of these for my short story since it’s well, short, but I did make notes about what I wanted to change in this editing pass.
Step 2: The big changes
There were two major areas I wasn’t happy with in the first draft: the beginning and the ending. To me, the original draft started a touch too fast and didn’t give enough information about our main character. The ending also wrapped up too quickly I felt, and it just felt like it was missing something. Namely, I felt like the MC should have a last thought about the antagonist, but she wasn’t speaking clearly to me when I finished up the first draft, so I decided to revisit that in this revision path. Neither section ended up changing as much as I expected, but I am happy with the changes as I believe they fill in a few gaps that were too vague or missing before.
Step 3: Pacing
Pacing is always a struggle for me. Full-length novel or short story, it’s the one area I have to work on every single time. That was a focus in these revisions too. Where could I cut words here and there, particularly in the beginning, to keep the pace up and the reader invested? Also, what needed to be added to the ending so that it wasn’t too quick and abrupt. I ended up trimming some information from the first half to hopefully tighten it up a bit and propel the reader toward the twists in the latter half.
Step 4: Line edits
Once the content changes are complete, I take another pace looking at the wording of sentences. Are there too many that start the same way? Do I have repetitive words or phrases? Would things sound better written a different way?
Step 5: Proofread
The final step is proofreading. I use the Grammarly app to help scan my work for grammatical errors and catch errors that my mind reads over without noticing.
Thanks for sticking with me while I discussed my editing process. Now, without further ado, here’s the self-edited draft of Hello, Sweetheart.
All week I’ve waited for the chance to see you once more. To hear your voice or feel the brush of your fingers on mine. It’s the one thing I long for, the rainbow of joy in the endless grey of my life.
My lungs burn as I pull in another breath of thin air. A stick cracks through the hum of insects. Cool night air seeps into the shadows, chasing away the heat of the day as quickly as the sun drops toward the mountain peaks. But my locket, a gift from you, is warm as I rub the metal with my thumb. My lips tug up in one corner. Soon, I’ll see you again. We’ll laugh and lay in the weeds, watching the stars appear in the night sky. Up here, there’re no lights to mess up the view. No other people to disturb us. It’s our place, mine and yours. You’ll take my hand and smile at me, just the way you did the first day we met.
How could I ever forget? Life began anew when I met you.
Caramel and cream coated my tongue as I licked at the edge of the ice cream cone. Not that it helped. But the messy streams crawling down my fingers didn’t matter when I looked up and saw you. A new face in an old, familiar town. You leaned your bike, an off-road model in my favorite electric blue, against a lamp post on the cracked sidewalk. Even that couldn’t hold my attention when you flashed a shy grin, a coy dimple on your cheek. How long since someone looked my way? How long since I’d even cared?
I brush a pine branch out of my way on the rough path. Its scent chases me, clinging to my plaid sweater as I pull it closer. Up ahead, I catch a glimpse of my destination, a concrete shack more ruin than building. Rotting boards cover the windows. Useless, since the roof caved in. Who built it or when, I can’t say, but that doesn’t matter, it’s our special place now.
The clearing is empty. I twist around, brushing a sweat-dampened lock of hair from my face. My chest clenches around a sudden ache. I’m early. Yes, just early. That’s it.
Yarrow and wild wheat catch at my jeans as I cross to the old building. I’ll have a better view there. Without thinking, I find the locket again. There’s a pressed flower inside, a reminder of our first trip here. The early spring flowers have faded now, but not this one. Each rub along its smooth, round face calms me. A gentle breeze teases my hair. The last rays of sun dance across the clearing as it sinks behind the mountains. Peaceful. It always is here. Anywhere is with you—my rock in the storm.
My shoulders loosen as I glance back at the trees. Any moment now, you’ll step out on the path behind me with that half-smile that makes me weak. You’ll wave—
My boot knocks into something. I halt, peering down into the overgrown weeds stretching up my calves. A black candle, wide, short and half-melted, lays on its side. My brows wrinkle. We didn’t bring candles last time. I crouch, prepared to scoop up the offending object when something else catches my attention. Red and black plaid, just like mine, dirty and worn by the elements.
Darkness falls in a rush as the sun fades, stripping the heat from my body. I shoot to my feet. There’s more. Something white, long—
A scream catches in my throat. Bones arc up from the plaid. I stumble, the back of my hand over my mouth. Not here. Not in our place. Tears prick the corner of my eyes.
I fight the urge to run, to scream, to call for help, but no one can help this person now. Swallowing the bile in my throat, I inch closer. Other used candles poke out among the weeds. What’s left of the body is stretched out in a cross. Boy? Girl? Old? Young? In the growing dark, it’s hard to see…so little is left. Why didn’t we see it last time?
An arm wraps around me. I scream and jump back, hitting a solid body.
“Shh,” you whisper.
At once, I relax, savoring the spearmint scent of your favorite gum, the kind you’re always chewing like life depends on it.
I twist my head, lips ripe with words for you.
White-hot pain rips through my chest. The words never come. Nor does a scream. Shock fades to numbing cold as I grab for the knife in my chest, but it’s not there. No blood bubbles from a wound. My fingers touch only air. Your breath tickles my neck, but I can’t feel you, not your arms around me or your chest at my back.
I can’t move. Can’t speak. Only the corpse greets me.
And then I see it.
A glint of silver. A circle locket on a chain lays among broken bones and tattered cloth.
You’re not here. I can’t smell you or feel you. But the ache in my heart is all too real—a wound that will never be healed. Silent, screaming emptiness chokes me until there’s nothing left.
As the last of sunset fades, I fall toward my corpse and darkness swallows me.
My next step is to send this story off to critique partners for their feedback. Once they’ve read it and given me their thoughts, I’ll be revising the story again. I’d love your feedback too! Drop me a comment here or reach out on twitter. Be sure to check back next week to see how it continues to change and evolve.