Today, I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret: I am a terrible writer. As proof, I will show you the beginning of a draft of a short story I’m working on.
FORKS AND SPOONS
Sara looked up from her book to see her sister come to the door of their father’s study for the third time. Vicki’s hands were on her hips, and she was glowering at Sara. “Sara LeAnn! I’ve asked you twice already to set the table. I’m not going to ask you again.”
What a grump, Sara thought, rolling her eyes. She hated it when Vicki tried to act like Mama. She knew Vicki was annoyed. It was raining outside, and rain always made Vicki grouchy. Plus, today was Thursday, Vicki’s night to make dinner, and she hated cooking. She had been complaining for the past half hour because Mama was late from work. Now dinner was almost ready, so Vicki was whining that it would be cold by the time Mama got home.
Sara ignored her sister. She knew she should obey Vicki and set the table. But she just couldn’t right now: this Nancy Drew book was too exciting. Both times Vicki had come in to ask her to set the table, Sara had promised to come as soon as she finished her chapter. And she had intended to, but each chapter had ended so suspensefully that she had to start reading the next one to make sure Nancy didn’t get hit by a car or killed by the villain.
Sara now gave her sister the most pathetic look she could. “Just a few more pages, Vicki, please. I just have to find out if Nancy and Bess and George are going to be okay. They’ve been kidnapped!”
Vicki marched over to their father, who was sitting at his desk in the back of the room. “Daddy, tell Sara to set the table.” She glared back at Sara. “Now.”
Their father looked up from the sermon he was preparing. “Sara,” his voice held a mild remonstrance, “do what your sister says.”
Did you feel bogged down? Bored? Annoyed? Were you confused about whose point of view the story was in–Sara’s or Vicki’s? Did you just not care enough to keep reading?
Well, all those responses are because it’s not great writing. Great writing sucks you in and doesn’t let you go. It keeps tension (and thus reader interest) high. It is clear, spare, and necessary.
Here’s my attempt to revise the story’s beginning so that you, the reader, want to keep reading.
FORKS AND SPOONS
Sara looked up from her book. Vicki stood in the doorway of their father’s study, her hands on her hips. “I’ve asked you twice already to set the table! I’m not going to ask you again.”
Sara rolled her eyes. She hated it when Vicki tried to act like Mama.
“Get up and go set the table!”
Sara gave her sister the most pathetic look she could. “Just a few more seconds, Vicki, please. I have to find out if Nancy and Bess and George are going to be okay. They’ve been kidnapped!”
“That’s what you said last time!” Vicki marched over to their father who sat at his desk in the back of the room. “Dad, tell Sara to set the table.” She glared back at Sara. “Now.”
Daddy took his earbuds out and looked up from the sermon he was preparing. “Sara, please go set the table.”
The revision is half the length of the original, and it moves faster because it’s not weighed down with back story or exposition. Still, I’d be curious to know what you think. Does the revision hold your interest more than the original? Do you want to keep reading? What (short of a car chase) would make it more compelling?