Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Tale of Two Revisions

Last year I submitted one of my retold noodlehead folktales to an editor at a magazine I've been published in before. I've had good luck with my retellings of stories about fools - young readers love to say, "I know better than that!"

The editor, who was about to retire, sent back a cordial note saying it was "a funny idea," but the plot lost suspense early on because the reader could guess this fool would never find the possessions he was looking for. She also couldn't believe the fool could be SO clueless he wouldn't recognize his lost property when he saw it. She offered to have me resubmit.

I set about revising the plot to fix the suspense problem. When I resubmitted to a different editor, I got back a nice note saying she found the story "interesting . . . but a bit depressing." The fool in this revision still searched all day for his missing property and never found it, and I had belabored his long walks in the hot sun. As often happens in revising, you fix one thing and ruin another. I hadn't paid attention to the tone of the story. The light, foolish touch had disappeared and at the end the fool is resigned to his loss, which leaves the reader feeling gloomy. The editor was right. It was a downer. I e-mailed and asked whether she would be willing to see a revision. Lucky for me, she said yes.

In my second revision, I carefully balanced plot and tone - the fool still faces some hardship searching for the lost property he never finds - but I shortened and lightened the descriptions. Most importantly, the ending now has a humorous twist. The fool, rather than being resigned to his loss, is hopeful. He has a plan to solve his problem. This plan elicits smiles, for even the youngest reader will see his foolish plan won't work.

And how does this blog tale end? I sold the story and have renewed respect for the tricky mechanics of revision. Now that's not foolish!


  1. Congratulations! You were very lucky/blessed that the editor(s) were willing to work with you and that you were able to make the changes needed.

  2. What a great revision story, Gale! It is so incredibly easy to break one part of a story while fixing another!

    I remember with my first attempted chapter book manuscript, my attempt to add suspense to the story left people wanting my realistic fiction story to be a fantasy. It took me a while to figure out that my latest revision was really confusing them about where my story was headed!

  3. Congrats on the sale! I love your "foolish" tales.

    I have a love/hate relationship with revision myself. Especially when someone says "oh, this is just a little fix" because one little fix, leads to another little fix and so on, and so on...

  4. Sometimes we wonder if another revision is worth it. Obviously, for you it was! Congratulations.

  5. Thanks for the comments and yes, I know how lucky I am to have worked with familiar editors who were willing to see revisions.

    The most discouraging letter to receive is a rejection with no comments and no offer to see the piece again.

  6. I just love a happy ending!

    Sometimes revising does feel a bit muddy -- fix one thing, muddy up another. But once everything is clear, and you can sail through to the ending, it's worth all the muck along the way.

  7. Not a fool at all! Congrats on the sale, but the real story is the fact that you didn't give up with the rejection. And that you listened. And revised.

    Way to go!

  8. Thanks for your words from the wise. Congrats on yet another sale!

  9. A happy (and inspiring) ending to a foolish tale. Congratulations!

  10. Gale,

    Congratulations! An excellent explanation of achieving balance in revisons.