So who’s this Jonathan character?

March 20, 2012

I decided to enter the Mslexia short story competition (having got longlisted in the novel one earlier in the year) but the story I wanted to enter was way too long.  In fact, it was about 2,000 words too long.  I’d written it a year or so ago and was quite fond of it, but looking at it again, I realised why it had yet to be published.  Words like overwritten and cliché sprang to mind.  I rolled up my writerly sleeves, grabbed my imaginary pruning shears, and set to work.  First to go was a character called Jonathan.  As I sought him out and excised him from the paragraphs in which he lurked, pointlessly, I realised that he wasn’t the first character called Jonathan to have met such a fate in my prose.  An early version of  my short story “Phantoms” had an almost Mills and Boon ending, thanks to an unappetising character called Jonathan.  I murdered him, had the heroine fall under a bus, and won a runner up prize in the Bridport competition.  Now I come to think about it, I think there’s another Jonathan in a story about bitterness, jealousy and revenge.  Maybe I should revisit that one too.

By the time I’d edited my story down to the required word limit, I had a piece of work that had shape and definition.  It was as if it had spent a week on a health farm shedding all those pounds of flab and having a thorough detox.  Maybe I’m projecting here.  I too could do with some health farm austerity…but my point is, going back to a story after a suitable length of time, reading it through a critical lens, making sure that every word counts, that every sentence takes the story on in its journey, is well worth doing.  Mine may not end up winning any prizes, but it’s an infinitely better story now than it was in its flabbier days.

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