Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More Writing Advice from a Five Year Old: Put the Best Story First

So I've been revising my short story collection. Again. Putting in newer stories. Taking out other stories. Tinkering (improving, I hope) stories that have already been published. Catching typos and repetitions and writerly tics.

This is the sixth official revision. At least there are six versions of the Word doc that contains the manuscript. The truer number is probably more like 20-25. Something like that.

And this time I did a little something different.

I wrote out all the story titles on 3 x 5 index cards. Then I spread the cards out on the floor. Arranged. Rearranged.

This really helped me "see" the collection as a whole (vs. scrolling through the Word doc).

At one point, my five-year-old son Ethan came into the room.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Well," I said, "I'm trying to see which order I want to put the stories in my book. To see which one should go first and then second and then third and on and on. Does that make sense?"


"What do you think?" I asked.

He looked down at all the index cards, all the individual stories that hopefully come together as something more, something greater.

"You should put the best story first," he said.


Jason Jordan said...

That's good advice. I've heard that people tend to remember the beginning and end of things (books, movies, events, etc.) most, so you wanna open strong and finish strong. Of course it helps if the middle is strong, too. ;)

Andrew Roe said...

Hey Jason,

Yep, a strong beginning, middle and end really helps.

Right now my collection is sort of ordered chronologically -- for example, the narrator in the first story is a boy, and the characters progressively get older.

So if I heeded my son's advice, I'd lose that structure.

Plus, it's so hard to say what your "best" story is. That may change from week to week or day to day (or hour to hour).

Carol said...

Actually, this is precisely what most agents advise. Mine said editors want the strongest stories at the beginning and the end of a collection. Evidently, studies show that most people read the first and last two stories in a collection. Perhaps your lad is a future agent. I tend to borrow from how jazzicians structure a set: vary the tempo and tone, never let the energy go slack.

Thanks for being an ongoing inspiration and example of tenacity, Andy. You and your fabulous kids always boost my spirits.

Andrew Roe said...

Carol, I roll the same way -- aiming for the musical structure. I've been meaning to write you. Will do that soon (hopefully)!