The writer Kurt Tidmore and I have been exchanging work over the internet for about five years now. He writes a mean short story.

Recently I sent him the almost final draft of a short story, to which he replied with an intriguing suggestion. That a final edit & polish would probably lose 10% of the text we would agree on, but what he envisaged was both of us having a go, independently, and then seeing how the results matched up.

The outcome was remarkable. Although we made different changes we made them in almost every case, at the same places. There were deletions in common too. What surprised me most of all was that we made a common addition, both sensing the need for an extra sentence near the end of the piece. The sentences we provided were not entirely dissimilar. Both of us gave one last image of the protagonist, who had completed a fairly long paragraph of speech, and was about to be asked the question, by his interrogator, that would lead on to his final statement.

We chose differently in what we had him doing. Kurt made him shrug. I made him bow his head and clasp his hands. The difference perhaps highlights our different guiding perceptions of the character, and of the story he is part of; and looking back at our various corrections I could see echoes of that difference in them. However, fact that we both chose to add at that point, and to add a similar image, shows I think, a shared understanding of the structural needs of the story.

When I am working on stories, not so much re-drafting as editing – and that means cutting out more often than not – I find that I’m taking out the same sort of stuff, and therefore have been repeating the same sort of errors! These are often havering words, like, ‘perhaps’, ‘almost’ or ‘maybe’, where it’s not the characters that are in doubt, but the narrator. Make your mind up, man, I tell myself. Is it happening or isn’t it? Another fault of mine is going on to explain something that I’ve already told you, as if I thought my readers weren’t clever enough to work it out. More likely, I was uncertain myself about having made my intention clear. That’s not somewhere to add an explanation though, but one to go back to and get right in the first place! It was additions like this that Kurt and I both took out of the story.

It was an interesting exercise both in its similarities, the high correlation of places where the changes were made, and in its differences, the separate stylistic and tonal roads we were walking. One other issue was raised for me. Where we diverged in whether or not a change needed to be made, the few places where I had left in something that he had deleted, or had left standing what he had changed, were ones where I could find a rationale for leaving it as it was. The exercise raised my awareness of my story, as well as raising my awareness of his interpretation of it.

I’m not sure that this sort of exercise would suit everyone, and certainly I would not recommend repeating it on a regular basis, nor with early drafts of a work, but there is no doubt that it was revealing, tending to strengthen, in this case, my concept of the story, rather than weakening it.  BHDandMe