It’s week 3 of Writer in Motion, and this week, I’ve been making additional revisions to my short story based on feedback from other writers. As part of Writer in Motion, each participant was assigned a few critique partners to swap stories with. We read each others’ work and give notes to the author about what we loved, any typos, things that might have been confusing, etc. This is an essential step as it lets the author know how a reader views the story and helps identify any plot holes or other issues that are easy for the writer to miss since we know our own stories so well.
This is one of the most important revision steps when I write longer works as well. I can’t tell you how many times my critique partners have helped me by pointing out things that were confusing, where the plot dragged, contradictions, things I’d totally thought I’d addressed but didn’t, and numerous other things. Plus, I love having their perspective as a reader on what they loved. Sometimes, knowing what works really well can be just as helpful as knowing what doesn’t.
So, this week, I received feedback from three other authors on my short story, The Looking Glass. Much of the feedback was pretty consistent, fixing some wording choices, tightening up the prose here and there, and clarifying some things. The biggest challenge I’ve had with this story is sticking to the word count. There are some things I’d love to add or describe that I simply don’t have room to, so I’ve had to pick and choose what’s necessary. That said, there is one section of this story I’ve struggled over all week about whether to cut it, change it, or leave it as-is. It’s short, two paragraphs, but boy has it given me trouble.
Typically when I can’t decide on how exactly to tackle a specific revision I do one, or both, of two things: (1) I set it aside and come back to it later. Sometimes that time away can help me see things clearly later that I couldn’t at the moment. Unfortunately, with Writer in Motion, I didn’t have time to let it sit that long. (2) I get more feedback. Talking out situations in my stories with my trusted friends can often help me figure out what to do. I planned to do that for this short story too, but life got in the way and I ran out of time. Whoops! That said, I’ve left that section alone for now, and hopefully my editor can help me figure out what to do with it.
From here, the short story is on to my editor for her suggestions and feedback. After that, I’ll make one more round of revisions before arriving at the final draft. Woohoo! So check back next week to see what my editor had to say and read the final version of The Looking Glass.
The Looking Glass – CP Revisions Draft
Sage clung to wood-paneled walls as if it could mute the tang of my mother’s death. A foolish old tradition. If some part of her lingered here, I’d have felt it by now. But there was nothing of her here. Even her things were lifeless, empty shells that could have belonged to anyone.
I rubbed the lacey sleeve between my fingers, aching for some last connection to her. With a sigh, I dropped the dress into the trunk with the others. Mama’s old room was as spotless as the rest of the house. Even the floors were polished to a shine, not a speck of dust anywhere. Whatever illness took Aunt Alice and then her two years later, it wasn’t for lack of a comfortable place to live.
My aunt had died in the room across the hall, not two weeks after Mama came to care for her. We expected her home then. She never came. Not even when I visited from university, only to find her green eyes dull and distant, skin wrinkled, and hair streaked with far more silver than I remembered.
Papa once said Mama had died the day she came here to care for her sister. I hadn’t believed him. Not then. It was hard to watch someone you loved die. Mama just needed time.
I snorted air through my nose. Harder still to have them leave you, to stay in the cursed place and wither away for months as if the world might crumble if they stepped off the grounds. Perhaps he was right and we had lost her then, long before I ever knew it.
And now the house was mine.
But I wouldn’t be staying. I hugged my arms around myself and scowled at the walls. It wouldn’t take another Carroll woman. I’d see to that. Aunt Alice may have willed the estate to her next female relative, but there was no condition against selling it.
A whisper, too quiet to make out, teased my ears and sent a chill creeping down my spine.
“Hello,” I called toward the open door to the hall. The servants should be gone, off to enjoy their rare holiday while I packed the last of mother’s things. Or perhaps not so rare from the tales they told. Mother had rarely left her room, they said, preferring her solitude—the very opposite of the laughing woman who commanded attention at parties in my youth.
The heels of my boots clicked across the polished wood as I ventured into the hall. “Hello?”
Only landscape paintings and closed doors greeted me. No servants. No hum from the gas piping. No sound at all, as if the house were as dead as Mama.
“Foolish, Eloise,” I scolded myself as I ducked back into the room. “Of course, no one is here.” Hollow disappointment ached through my chest as I said it. Perhaps I wanted someone to be, though—hoped Mama’s spirit lingered and she could explain her odd behavior these last years.
The whispering came again, a string of words I couldn’t make out that coiled around my neck like spider webs. The invisible threads tugged my attention across the room.
A tall mirror stood on its stand across the room, draped, as all mirrors are in a house that’s recently seen death, with a white cloth. The edge of the linen ruffled in the wake of another whisper. All the windows were closed, locked tight against the recent rains. The fine hairs along my arms stood on end.
Who’s there? I tried to say, but a bubble of air lodged in my throat. When it cleared, all that came out was a cracked, “Mama?”
Tears burned at the corners of my eyes, but I wouldn’t let them fall. I hadn’t cried when she left us. I certainly wouldn’t now. You’re a woman grown, Eloise, and it’s but a mirror.
I notched my chin higher and advanced on the blasted thing.
“Just a mirror.” I fisted a handful of cloth—cold, so cold—and jerked it away.
Breath fled my lungs. Age clouded and discolored the edges. That, I expected, but in its center, the smears of grey seemed to move, to float like heavy fog in early morning light.
“Alice,” a voice hissed.
My hand flew to my mouth as I stumbled back, a silent screech clawing up my throat. Something moved in the fog. Large. Dark. As if a person strode through the mist.
That’s when I noticed it, the lack of my reflection in the glass. My calves bumped against the bedframe, sending me tumbling back and that waiting screech careening into the silence.
“Alice,” the mirror whispered again. If death had a sound, that would be it. Air through clenched teeth. A faint, gasping rattle.
“Alice is dead,” I said, as if that alone would make the monstrosity flee. Alice. Mama. Both gone into the ground.
The fog stilled one brief moment. Then, an eerie laugh echoed from everywhere and nowhere at once. Tendrils of grey mist crept across the floor.
I scrambled across the bed, tangling the heavy bedspread, pulse hammering in my throat. Half my hair fell free of its pins. My boot caught the hem of my skirt. Fabric ripped. None of it stopped me from lurching toward the hall.
The door slammed. Unable to stop, I bowled into it so hard my bones rattled.
There was no time to breathe, to think, before the voice whispered again—solid, steady, right in my ear. “There must always be an Alice. And you are the next.”
A thing of fog and shadow bound me, firm as iron. No one heard my screams, nor my boots as they scrapped across the polished floors. All the trashing in the world couldn’t stop it.
I grasped the gilt frame of the mirror—one last anchor.
A nail cracked. I slipped.
And the fog within the looking glass took me away.