This week, for Writer in Motion, we focused on revising our short stories based on feedback from critique partners (CPs). I was lucky enough to have three incredible writers read my story and send me their thoughts, everything from small line edits to bigger comments on reader immersion, flow, clarity, etc. Big shout out to Steph, Sandy, and Shayna for their feedback!
How did I use the feedback I received to make revisions? Let’s dig into that:
Step 1: Read CP feedback
For this story, I was lucky to get feedback from all three CPs within a few days of each other. I actually waited until I had them all to dive into their comments, and it was great to be able to read all the feedback at once. That rarely happens for me with longer works, so sometimes I end up sitting on reader feedback for quite a while as I think about it and wait to see what others have to say.
I read through each set of feedback one by one and made notes about any bigger things I wanted to change. Smaller changes (such as typo fixes or simple line edits), I make while reading. This is my approach for longer works too.
Step 2: Make larger, developmental changes
After reading all feedback, I look over my notes regarding things that may need to be changed. Do I agree with the suggestion? Do I have a vision for it? If the answer is yes, I’ll start revising those areas based on whatever needs the most help or what is speaking to me the loudest at that moment.
The two consistent areas of feedback on this short story involved introducing the flashback (differentiating between past and present) as well as grounding readers at the start of the story.
I don’t write fiction in present tense. Literally never. BUT, the MC started speaking to me that way, and I ran with it. That said, my writing wasn’t very clear when I dipped into the small flashback since the MC was still talking present tense to me, but about the past, and that wasn’t immediately clear in a read-through of the story. Hopefully, that delineation is cleaner now.
Sometimes I have comments from readers (or from myself as I go back through the story) that I’m uncertain about. That didn’t happen this time, but when it does, I like to marinade on those a while longer until I know what direction I want to take. Sometimes I take a break here to mull things over. Other times, I just set those items to the side and move on to the next step.
Step 3: Make remaining small changes
This step for me is focused on line edits. Are there paragraphs or sections that were confusing? Inconsistencies? This is where I try to clean those smaller things up. For this short story, I did most of these changes in step 1, but there were a few places that I went back and tweaked the wording to make things more clear based on CP feedback. Most of my changes from CP feedback were these smaller things: Moving a line here, chopping a sentence there, adjusting a word or two for clarity, etc.
Step 4: Proofread
I always need to proofread. If I’m making changes, I will make typos.
Here’s the current draft after revising based on CP feedback:
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. My lungs burn as I pull in another breath of thin, mountain air. 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.
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 had coated my tongue as I licked at the edge of an ice cream cone. Not that it had helped. But the messy streams crawling down my fingers hadn’t mattered 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 had looked my way? How long since I’d even cared?
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. 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. I find the locket again. Each rub along its smooth, round face calms me. There’s a pressed flower inside, a reminder of our first trip here. The early spring blooms have faded now, but not this one. A gentle breeze teases my hair. The last rays of sun dance across the clearing. Peaceful. It always is here. Anywhere is with you.
My shoulders loosen as I glance back at the trees. Any moment now, you’ll step out on the path with that half-smile that makes me weak. You’ll wave—
My boot knocks into something. I stumble to a halt, peering into the overgrown weeds stretching up my calves. A black candle, wide, short and half-melted, lays on its side. My brows wrinkle. We’ve never brought candles before. 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 dips below the mountains, 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 torn and tattered 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. No one can help 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 twist against the solid body at my back.
“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 turn 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.
This isn’t the first time. It won’t be the last.
As the final hint of sunset fades, I fall toward my corpse, and darkness swallows me.
Now my story is off to more CPs for another round of feedback! Check back next week for the final (ah!) draft.