Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Don't Let Your Characters Down in the End

“Most short stories work on some variation of the following (so do most novels, but the novel works at a different speed): A LIKABLE CHARACTER overcomes ALMOST INSUPERABLE ODDS and BY HIS OR HER OWN EFFORTS achieves a WORTHWHILE GOAL.” Marion Zimmer Bradley in What is a Short Story?
[NOTE: This article includes a discussion of each of the capitalize phrases and the mistakes made by beginning writers.]

I received an interesting rejection letter yesterday that included comments about the story. “This is an interesting piece, and the format works nicely for the concept,” wrote one editor. “Great work. The prose is nice, the characters well drawn…” said another. So why was this story rejected? My ending didn’t follow the suggested format of today’s quote. Instead of reaching a worthwhile goal, my character died (due to his own stubbornness). Two of the editors found this resolution unsatisfying. The editor who began by saying the characters were well done changed his mind by the end of his comments. I tried reading the story from his point of view and realized both his statements were true. I'd created a sympathetic character and then let him down -- the character and the editor -- by trivializing the ending.

I’m going to use the editor’s comments to reformulate the ending and send this tale out to another publication. From the comments I received, and I thank the editors for their forthrightness, this is a story that is definitely worth the effort.

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