Albatross

I suppose the first blog post for the new year should be something wise, insightful, or otherwise fresh and new. I can at least say there’s new stuff in here, but that’s about it. I’ll be writing about writing today. New stuff, but not a new topic.

This latest short story in the Pa’adhe series is, as you know if you’ve read my previous posts, vexing. So much so, that I’m taking an additional step with this story: I’m utilizing a pre-Alpha reader.

I’ve explained before about Alpha and Beta readers and how valuable they are so I won’t go into that again. In this case, though, I need a pre-Alpha reader to vet my short story. This reader is being given the first draft and very specific instructions:

  1. Pay no attention to the writing errors unless they stand out so much that you must mention them.
  2. Read the story to see if it’s workable, if it makes sense as a story.
  3. Does the story flow?
  4. Is the story coherent?
  5. Is the story suitable for including with the others in the series?

As I’ve mentioned before, this story is one I have been struggling with. To be honest, I think it got away from me. Heck, it got away from the characters…I wasn’t getting any help from them at all. All this leads to where I have struggled so much with this particular story that I’m biased against it. I don’t think it’s any good. Not from a compositional or syntactical point of view but from a storytelling perspective.

I’ve managed to finish it, but I can’t help wondering if I just threw the ending in there to get it over with. The ending is unsatisfactory to me, but I can’t see any other ending for it that makes sense. It achieves two goals for me, and so it works. Having struggled with it for so long, longer than any other short story, and getting only around 5,000 words for the effort I need to be sure that it’s still worth presenting to my readers — I don’t want to give them something that leaves them going, “Huh? I wasted my time reading this?!?” That would be a disservice to them.

Enter the pre-Alpha reader.

This reader is going to be deciding if this story is presentable, if it’s worth taking beyond Draft 1, if it’s salvagable…no…if it should be salvaged.

That’s a lot to ask of any reader, to ask them to make that decision and inform the writer. Normally, we writers just ask them for feedback on the writing, characters, story flow, and other such that helps us polish the story into something worthy of the reader’s time. This time, though, I’m so frustrated with the story and been struggling with it for so much longer than any other short story that I’m second- and triple-guessing myself. So, I need help. We all know it’s just feedback, letting me gauge the viability of this new story. Until now, though, I’ve never asked a reader if a story should be thrown out.

I never thought I’d get to this point, where I’d be asking a select reader “Is this story worth polishing and putting out there?” I know I need the help, but having vested so much time and effort in these 5,000 words I’m surprisingly reluctant to hear the reader agree with me that it might be better to toss it. After all, it’s still something I created and to be told to just toss it even if that’s my take on it will be a disappointment. One I can live with, but one I could also happily do without.

Yes, I do see the parallel between this and submitting it to an agent or publisher. There’s a difference, though: the amount of confidence in the story. Submitting the story to an agent or publisher implies you’re confident in your writing, that you’ve got a story, that you’ve got something readers will enjoy. That confidence isn’t here for this story.

So, tonight this story goes to the pre-Alpha. By Thursday or Friday I’ll know if there’s going to be a Draft 2 or not.

One way or another, this albatross will be taken care of.

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