Experiment #001: Mars Short Story Revision


Tina Dubinsky

Aim: To revise a Mars short story and infuse it with emotion and a stronger ending.

Tools: Scrivener; An aha creative moment where an idea to change the story came to me just before falling asleep one evening; Printer; Paper; Pen; Journal. Voice; Imagination; Point of view (POV).

Date started: 2 June 2024

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My Mars short story is an artefact from my postgraduate university degree. It is also the first short story I’ve ever written as an adult, or at least the first one I remember writing.

When I wrote the first draft, I felt duty-bound to follow in the great footsteps of science-fiction writers.

The writing began with discovery about Mars.

Did you know there are hundreds, possibly thousands of books set on Mars, the fourth planet from our Sun? I created a spreadsheet with a long list of stories that I discovered and meta. It barely skimmed the surface.

As part of my discovery, I also investigated the interest in sending humans to Mars, as well as the different methods and ways organisations were setting out to achieve this fascinating goal.

I also spent a huge amount of time reading and learning about Mars, especially from NASA.

After I finished the subject, I put the story away. It was okay, but it was not flowing. Something was missing, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It might even be more than one thing. So, I filed it away until a couple of weeks ago, when an aha moment struck me as I fell asleep.

The aha moment

Normally, I have aha moments in the toilet or shower. I have a habit of falling asleep and vivdly dreaming about the stories and characters I write about. My Mars story seemingly popped out of my unconscious soup.

Last week, I set to rewriting it. If I were to change it according to my dream, then it would need some changes at the start and toward the end.

I started by revisiting the story, as it had been a few years, maybe eight since I filed it away.

My first reaction was: It’s not too bad, but it’s a bit sterile. It could do with another read. I made some minor tweaks to the language, but this wasn’t what I had set out to revise.

So, I thought about the first idea from my aha moment. I wrote a short scene to go with it.

I’m revising a sci-fi short story this weekend. I had filed it several years ago as the ending did not feel right. A week ago, an idea struck me as I was falling asleep. I had to get up to write it down. Now, revising and rewriting with this new twist in mind. #amwriting #revising #shortstory

— Tina Dubinsky (@tinadubinsky.com) May 26, 2024 at 4:52 PM on Bluesky

The moment seemed to have more meaning in my dreamland then it did on paper.

The next change would be toward the end of the short story. This change would heighten the story’s pivotal moment and create a twist.

After re-reading the short story, I realised the original already had a twist—an understated twist. Did I need another?

Letting the story sit

I let the story sit a bit longer as I pondered the need for the new twist that played out vividly in my third eye. However, I now felt that it might complicate the story. I let it sit for two more weeks before going back to read it again.

KISS = Keep It Simple, Silly.

After rereading the story tonight, I decided it didn’t need the new ideas. But, I was grateful for the inspiration to read the story again and reflect on it.

After another reading, I concluded what the story lacked was emotion. It felt sterile, and some of the word choices were awkward and dry.

I had chosen to write the story in the third person, limited. How would it sound in the first person?

So, this evening, I decided to take a different approach to my experiment and rewrite the first scene.

I don’t usually like the first person. As a reader, I generally prefer the third person, and this POV is reflected in my creative writing.

As I wrote, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to change the tense from past tense to present to see if this could heighten the emotion.

A depiction of a Mars colony with astronauts and rover.

Completing my Mars short story experiment with an “author-reading”

My husband Alex agreed to listen to an author-reading of the first scene. He always tells me I should read audiobooks, and one day, I hope to do this by reading my own.

We both agreed that the change in POV and tense made the story and characters more interesting.

I did have a query about my protagonist when reading it aloud.

Was it okay for me to write about my protagonist in first person if they were from a different background and culture?

My protagonist’s ancestry and culture are not the same as mine. When I created the character in the third person POV, I had no problem writing about her. I borrowed some aspects from connections and interactions we had with people in our local community, but for the most part, it is an original fictional character that is not based on any one real-life person.

Finally, after completing the reading out loud and making minor corrections to the tense, this story now has the emotion it was lacking.

What next for my Mars short story?

I still have about 2,500 words to revise. I will continue with this approach to changing the POV and tense over the next couple of weeks, honing it until I am satisfied that it works.

I’ll also give more attention to the ending, but I’m hopeful the change of POV and tense will magnify the twist.

When I’m satisfied with the rewrite and have feedback from some beta-readers and an editor, I will consider submitting it to several Science Fiction magazines.

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