Sunday, November 23, 2014

How a cheeseburger became a craving

This is a follow-up (finally) to the sale of my story "Cravings" and how it came into being originally as a tale about killer cheeseburgers. Read more about that here.

So I'll confess that I initially screwed up regarding the cheeseburger theme, in a way that affects a lot of writers. The problem with my original approach to the story (which I called "Cheeseburger in Paradise") wasn't with the premise. By and of itself, the essence of the tale was fine. The problem I introduced was regarding the focus. Here I made a blunder in the first version of the story by casting the cheeseburger as the star. The core. The central cog around which everything else revolved. Heck, if Jimmy Buffet could get away with it, I could too. Right?

Except... no.

Delightful as a scrumptious, gooey cheeseburger might be, sci-fi readers aren't keen to have them as the protagonist of a story unless: a) the reader has a bad case of the munchies, or b) the burger develops sentience somewhere along the way. I couldn't count on the former and the latter, while intriguing, wasn't the tale I had written. Alas.

Unfortunately, I then compounded my little problem with the story's focus. I didn't realize what I'd done with "Cheeseburger in Paradise." I got so caught up in my homage to the humble fast food staple, I totally missed the fact that the story had little appeal. Nada. Zip. Except perhaps to stockholders of certain burger-based franchises.

After I'd accumulated a handful of "Pass" replies by various editors, I decided it was time for a different approach. At this point, a writer has three choices regarding an unsold story.

Choice 1 - they can press on and keep submitting. Perhaps it's a matter of finding the right editor/publisher for the right fit. Perhaps the writer will luck out and collect feedback along the way thus enabling a bit of fine tuning to ultimately make the story irresistible.

Choice 2 - they can trunk the story. This means putting it into limbo, possibly forever. This option might not imply permadeath for the story as it could be resuscitated and circulated again in the future. Or perhaps parts of the story could find new life in the context of another tale.

Choice 3 - they can rewrite the story. Change the plot. Change the pacing. Change the characters. The setting. The conflict. All options are fair game to recast the story into a form that has more appeal.

Regarding "Cheeseburger in Paradise," something told me to elect Choice 3. I'm not sure exactly what that 'something' was. I suspect I managed to take a hard look at the story from the perspective of a virgin reader, which is not an easy thing given we, as writers, are obsessively close to our stories. Close as in parental love for sired children. These stories are our babies. They don't have flaws. Just minor setbacks to be overcome. Teeny tiny aberrations. Nothing serious.

Except... no.

Stories aren't future Olympians or Nobel Prize winners or Supreme Court Justices. They are (for some of us) commercial products to be sold and shared. As such, they cannot bear any flaws. Hence writers are constantly questing for perfection of their precious little darlings, which raises the specter of a host of new challenges -- a topic for future blog posts.

Fortunately for me, I was finally able to listen to my inner reader. I came to recognize that the story wasn't about a mythical cheeseburger. The compelling story really was about the people who were caught up somehow in that mysticism. "Cheeseburger in Paradise" thus morphed into "Cravings." The rest is history.

That's it really. I would say that writers employing a rewrite choice for an existing, unsold story are actually in quite a position of power. The heavy lifting has been done, after all. If you force yourself to be an unbiased reader judging your (currently suboptimal) story for what it most lacks, you might learn that you need recast only one of the prime elements of story to get a more appealing result. Or not, in some cases. Either way, you be the judge. You hold the ultimate power of the pen.