So a few weeks ago in my class I presented a lesson on where ideas come from. I read a few of my stories to them and we discussed where I got the ideas for them.
The first story I read–before my class started calling me a homicidal maniac for this one–I read them Closure. Now I think I can say without reservations that “Closure” is the story that put me on the map. It won a Derringer. It made me lots of friends.
And reading it to my students for the first time in years, I realized something.
I hate it.
I like the idea of “Closure.” The plotlines, the characters, and so on. But it could be 1,000 words shorter. It could be 1,000 times tighter. And I think that would make the story even more powerful. I remember sitting down to write the story and saying “Okay, I want to write a September 11th story without every putting the phrase 9/11 into the story.” To me, that was the idea of subtle. Now I think I could strip it down even more so.
There’s a point where two cops call Omar a “sand nigger.” I wanted to show that even our “heroes” from that day were fallible. But now it just rubs me as wrong. Too over the top.
As I go back through my older stories, I find that happens a lot. I really cringe at the way I wrote back then. I overwrote. There’s too much description. There’s too much flower. There’s not enough action. And some of the turns of phrase are really bad.
But I wrote and published my first Donne story at age 20. And “Closure” is a damn good story for a 22 year old.
Is WHEN ONE MAN DIES better? I hope so.
I think each of my stories have progressively gotten better in terms of the writing style and word choice. I can say more by saying less.
But still, I cringe at the old stuff.
And I’m sure years from now I’ll cringe at WHEN ONE MAN DIES too.
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