How Many Revisions is Too Many?

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Conventional writing wisdom says there’s a time to stop tinkering and send your fiction babies out into the world.

But conventional wisdom is withholding on when exactly that time is.

So I’m taking advantage of the fact that I’m an unpublished writer. Let’s consider this a case study in my evolving abilities as a fiction writer and the long, crazy path one story can take.

Story: The Summer King

This is one of my oldest stories. I have drafts of this dating back to 2000, the year I submitted the story to the Writers of the Future contest and received an honorable mention. But the story lay fallow after that.

The premise has potential: a young man, determined not to live a quiet, heterosexual life in a dying town, bets everything on a scheme to securing the power of a man who is able to take age away from clients who will pay a pretty penny to regain lost youth.

The initial draft is good, but had holes in the core premise: how was the young man to gain said power? Why would the Summer King give his power away? It also suffered from a problems that has long plagued my stories: all the characters sound the same.

A few years ago, when I founded the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers, The Summer King was the first story I volunteered for critique at the very first meeting. Since then, it has been edited and critiqued again. Each time, I let the story sit for a year at a time. I put it on my calendar to revise, then moved the calendar entry forward, month after month.

Recently, though, I seem to have crossed some sort of threshold. Stories I couldn’t finish found their endings. Characters I have had trouble with crystallized. Works that were stuck became unstuck. I can see stories more clearly now than I used to, and consider characters from new angles.

Which is what happened with The Summer King. I never took the time to look at him as a character. I was focused on my protagonist, ignoring the rich potential of the setting and the supporting characters. I’m currently re-writing based on these revelations, and will be sending this story back out to markets by the end of April.

The conclusion I’ve reached is that as long as the story is still improving, you never have to stop moving the work forward.

Stay tuned. I hope to follow this entry with a link to the story once it’s published.

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