This past weekend I saw the Pacific Northwest Ballet dance "Love Stories," an program of five pas de deux including my very favorite short ballet, AFTERNOON OF A FAUN. They were wonderful. But even if I hadn't had this treat, ballet would have been on my mind because I was writing, and then rewriting, a story for an invitation anthology edited by Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin, DANGEROUS WOMEN.
The story concerns ballet in a post-apocalyptic world. This choice of a subject matter was the result of a two things: (1) I love ballet and hadn't written about it for a while, and (2) I wanted to avoid the two (to me) most obvious kinds of dangerous women, armed warriors and men-destroying vamps. I was after something more subtle. I didn't achieve it, because Gardner and George rejected the story: My women weren't dangerous enough. Or hardly at all. But the story itself, they said, was a good read -- would I like to rewrite?
Yes. I would. Here is the process I went through:
Day 1: Brooding and feeling bad.
Day 2: I sat on the sofa, trusted clipboard with legal pad on my knees, and listed all the editors' objections. I stared at each of these until I thoroughly understood what each meant. Next, I listed all the characters in my story, including the minor ones. Often the best way to restructure a story while preserving its basic idea, tone, and plot is to shift the focus to another character. Did I have any secondary characters that I could make more dangerous? I stared at each of these names, running various plot ideas through my mind. Nothing struck, but I was preparing ground. I was also determined: I was going to be in this anthology if I had to arm my ballerinas with AK-47s.
Day 3: Took a long walk with the dog, ruminating on the world I had created for the story, thinking about it. The dog was no help with this. Later that evening, just before I drifted off to sleep, I saw which character I could use, and how.
Days 4, 5, and 6: Rewrote furiously. For new material I usually work three or four hours a day, but with an existing manuscript I can go far longer. Printed out the story, edited on paper, wrote new scenes longhand on the clipboard, typed it all in, repeated the entire procedure two more times.
Day 7: Jack proofread the story, made a few suggestions. Typed those in, and sent it off to Gardner.
Day 10: Gardner and George accepted "Second Arabesque, Very Slowly."
Does this procedure for rewriting work for everyone? I have no idea. But it's what I know how to do: Start with character and go on from there. And I think this version of the story, thanks to the editors, is stronger than my original.