The Ultimate “How To” Writing Book by Christopher Fielden.
Amazon: 5 starts.
Order a FREE taster PDF
BUY the Book

Follow me on Twitter.
Find me on Facebook.
My Facebook Business Page.
Connect with me on LinkedIn.
Circle me on Google.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Subscribe to my mailing list

* indicates required

The In-Between Days by Cameron Dunham

Featuring the accompanying case study:

The Advantages Of Working With An Editor

Quick links on this page:

Introduction, by Chris Fielden

'The In-Between Days' is a short story written by Cameron Dunham. It was first published by Fictive Dream, an online short fiction magazine based in the UK. Cameron's story appears below, but you can also read 'The In-Between Days' on the Fictive Dream website here.

Fictive Dream Logo

Cameron originally approached me because of the really positive experience he'd had working with editor Laura Black, who runs Fictive Dream, after his story was accepted for publication. He wondered if writing about the editorial process he'd been through would interest my readers.

I thought it would, especially if Laura was open to sharing her correspondence with Cameron, clearly showing why edits were suggested and made. I'm pleased to say she agreed to the idea.

Cameron has been very generous in sharing his story and all the alterations that were made prior to publication, creating a clear case study for other writers to learn from. This example shows a writer what to expect if their story is accepted for publication.

Have you had a short story published? Would you like to write about your experiences for my website? If your answer is 'yes, yes' then please check out my submission guidelines.

back to top

The In-Between Days

by Cameron Dunham

and although the day is nice, I feel it ease in as dusk comes. By the time we close the door behind us and, holding hands, prepare to make the long, return journey, there is a gentle pulling in my chest. I lift her into the car seat, strap her in and ignore the routine complaint of “Too tight!” Giving her the ritual kiss on the forehead, I make my way round to the driver’s side. I stare back at the house, realize I’ve forgotten to close the curtains, the ice blue of the Christmas tree lights wink at me: “We’ll be seeing you later…” I shake my head; snort back snot; turn the key; drive away.

Four hours later I step back through the same door and shut out the biting chill. Some of it manages to follow me in, clinging to my skin and bones like a spider. I’m shivering and it isn’t all because of the cold. It has its hold on me now. I go through the mundane tasks and retreat to bed.

Spider with yellow fangs

I drift in and out of sleep; never sleeping for long, never awake for long. My mind fixates on the smallest aspect of a minor wrangle to do with dustbins but goes around the houses on an elaborate path that recycles plots and characters from films and books before eventually, inevitably, returning to a minor wrangle to do with dustbins. I sleep with two duvets and a hot water bottle. The sweat pours out of me into the sheets, corroding them, burning through the mattress and leaving nothing but the springs. I rest on these, something cooking on the grill, until I slip through and coagulate on the pan beneath. From here I will be scraped off and placed into the kitchen rubbish until the black bag fills and I am transported out to the dustbin. Here I will see the minor wrangle to do with the dustbins from a different, and helpless, perspective. I remain in bed for forty three hours. Amazingly, the pint of pure cranberry juice does last me. I eat nothing but four oranges.

Sunday afternoon, already dark, I make my way downstairs on joints that have been spun with glass. The living room has become cavernous in my absence, darkened and without atmosphere. My breath frosts, airlessly, in front of me. The blue Christmas lights fizz and spit as they dominate the corner: I can just pick out thin strands of ice, winding their way around the wire flex to concentrate in a smooth mess at the plug socket. Inwardly shuddering whilst the sickness sweats down my forehead, I hurry through austere wasteland and into the kitchen.

The trip downstairs has exhausted me. Twice I feel my head swell and once I am looking down at myself, the top of my head swaying, my hair thick with grease. As I replenish my orange supply I see the bananas move like clumsy fingers and the revulsion that I feel overpowers any sense of mystery. Despite my nausea, despite my physical weakness, and despite the ice in the living room that has spread to a soft crunch in the carpet, I flee back upstairs; I flee with the certainty that the awful hand of bananas will cumbersomely come climbing after me. SCUTTLING. Like. a. …

It is all I can do to text in sick over the next few days: no one knocks, no one calls, no one knows; no one buys tickets to this one man show. The disembodied voices of podcasts discuss old Stanley Kubrick movies and how YouTube footage of beheadings in a gorgeously framed desert offers horror unparalleled but a louder voice shouts inside me, “You are truly alone,” and the noises that come from downstairs are creaking and unpleasant. On a dizzy foray to the toilet I notice I have been coughing so hard that blood vessels have burst in my eye and I stare at my reflection for a long while. A vulture’s eye picked out by a single beam of light, a corpse dismembered and buried in golden sand.  The Tag Heuer watch keeps ticking, driving a confession from a young man who looks a lot like Mathew Modine. Has he killed him because of the fighter plane film? The red eye wide now surely shut. Swish; thump; spurt. Tick tock, tick tock. It’s Christmas in New York. But is it New York?

How much later? Hours? Days? A need to replenish the oranges overcomes terror and I make my way downstairs again. There have been some interesting developments. The carpet is smooth, hard and freezing. My feet stick to the cold surface and my ankles feel as though they will snap. The Christmas tree is now the epicentre of a sub-zero icescape, the blue lights still blinking but faster and more frantic. I breathe in and out but there is only vacuum now. Vacuum and a deadening chill. On airless wisps, I drift through the living room and into the kitchen. I aim myself at the oranges. The oranges which are next to the bananas.

My hand shakes as I reach for the fruit. I close it around one orange orb, the coolness reassuring in my sweaty palm, its surface smooth but porous, firm yet yielding. I stare at the bananas, expecting them to move. Which they do. I jump backwards and the bananas continue to move, twitching laboriously.  I’m horrified. I keep looking. They ripple, trying to point. Then they rear up, just momentarily, and I see something else. It’s not the bananas. My hand leaps. The orange presses to my mouth. The sour taste of peel, stifling the scream. Tarantulas. There are tarantulas in the bananas.

Bunch of Bananas

In the seconds that the bananas move, I can see them. A nest of tarantulas at the bottom of the fruit bowl. Their dark business, hairy with malevolence. Their awful pushings and heavings, liftings of the thick fingers of bananas; the yellow cage bars have been all that keep me safe. But yellow bars will mush to black, are already mushing to black and in between the fingers of bananas, glaring out are the sickening glints of multiple octets, diamonds of malice, dreadful hissing fangs, dripping with venom and madness. The deadly intent of a dance macabre. Coming soon, they promise; coming soon to a space near you: a diabolical dance of madness. It’s more than a mind can bear. Gripping the now crushed orange, I turn and run. Back through the kitchen and into space. Orange drips from my hand and falls upwards, my feet are slipping and sliding on the carpet and it is only the grip of the ice that keeps me from drifting ceiling-wards. I make the stairs and grab the banister, begin pulling myself back upstairs. The tiny eyes of the Christmas tree are legion in their winking, watching of my escape. And all the time I can hear the hissing, feel the eyes burning, hear the scuttling, scuttling, scuttling after me…

Another Friday evening and another heavy clunk as I close the passenger car door. I lean down and tap at the glass window until she turns her little face, soft and smiling, to look. I give a big smile back and an exaggerated wave. I wait for her to turn away before repeating the whole process again. This time her smile is a bit more knowing, a bit more weary and it will be short years before she accompanies it with a roll of the eyes. It’s been a good day and I’m feeling much better: in-between days somehow survived and in-between days ahead of me again. I walk round the car to the driver’s side but something catches my eye. I’ve forgotten to close the curtains and the ice blue lights of the Christmas tree lights wink at me; just once. As I open the car door, I cough.

THE END

back to top

Cameron Dunham's Biography

Cameron Dunham

Cameron Dunham has previously had his work published by Dream Catcher magazine; Fictive Dream; Bunbury Magazine and Platform for Prose, amongst others, and is also a performing musician and actor on the London fringe scene. He is a regular contributor of theatre reviews to the ‘Remotegoat’ site and also delivers seminars on creative writing. Cameron is currently working on his first novel.

You can learn more on Cameron's website.

back to top

The Advantages Of Working With An Editor

The Loneliness of the Short Story Writer

The act of writing is a pretty solitary practice; no one will be surprised to hear that. What might catch some unawares is that getting work published can be a pretty solitary practice as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always a great moment when one of your pieces gets accepted. I’m sure that many of us have experienced that strange, yet exhilarating, experience of fist pumping when the positive response comes back; it’s a great feeling. When that subsides, though, the reality of making a connection, the idea of reaching out to an audience, is often still problematic.

Sometimes an acceptance can feel a little bitter sweet for me. Once I get over the initial rush that something I wrote is getting published it can all seem a little, oh, I don’t know… anti-climactic. Firstly, there’s the delay between getting the green light and actually seeing your work in print. Admittedly that’s a lot shorter with online publishing, but if you’re dealing with physical media it can be interminable: I experienced a whole year between having my short story 'Joining the Gym' accepted and actually published. By the time it finally came out let’s just say that it didn’t feel too fresh anymore. Once your work is published it can sometimes feel like it’s gone straight into a black hole full of unanswered questions:

  • Who’s read it?
  • Do they like it?
  • Has ANYONE read it?

Feedback, at the fledgling level, is often patchy at best. And as for connecting with an audience? Well, maybe it’s just me but that often seems to sail into a black hole as well. In short, sometimes the worst case is probably the most likely case: the most you get out of having a story published is a credit for your CV to bolster your chances of getting your next piece published; and so it goes on…

Acceptances & Rejections

I’ve been enjoying a pretty good run lately. Having submitted three of my short stories to seven of the online publishers found on Christopher Fielden’s site I currently have a strike rate of three acceptances, two rejections and two no replies: not too shabby. It was the excellent experience that I had of submitting to Fictive Dream that I wanted to focus on here because it went beyond the fist-pump of acceptance and gave me an excellent experience of collaborative editing that went way beyond the norm. I sent them my story “The In-Between Days” with a fairly standard accompanying email:

Dear sir/madam,

Please find attached my short story 'The in between Days' for consideration to be included in Fictive Dream. The story details a single father's traumatizing experience in between contact periods with his daughter.

And I included a typical, short resume:
Cameron Dunham has previously had his work published in Dream Catcher magazine, amongst others, and is also a performing musician and actor on the London fringe scene.

Many thanks for taking the time to read my work.

Best wishes

The response that I received from Fictive Dream was a little different to the standard 'Yay' or 'Nay' that we’re all used to:

Dear Cameron,

Thank you for submitting The In-Between Days to Fictive Dream.

I very much enjoyed reading your piece and would like to publish it. However, there are a couple of minor aspects that I would like to discuss with you. If in principle, you're agreeable to making small editorial changes, we could discuss via email early next week?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best.

I was obviously quite pleased with this – it is essentially an acceptance email – but I also felt a little uneasy. I spend a lot of time redrafting my work and whilst I like to think I’m open to criticism, by the time I send a story away I’ve worked on it so much that it’s kind of the finished product, as far as I’m concerned. In short, I was a little anxious about the kind of changes that were going to be suggested and wondered just how flexible I would be in implementing them; maybe I wasn’t as open to criticism as I liked to think? Maybe I’d got used to creating in a vacuum? Hell, maybe I’d even got quite comfortable in that ol’ black hole? Coupled with this, however, was an undeniable curiosity as to what this process would involve. The only editorial input I normally get is from a couple of close friends whose opinions I value but I think that they’re getting a little tired of me, in all honesty. What could I expect from a more experienced party? In the end, curiosity won out (of course) and I responded with:

Many thanks for your email. I am very happy that you have expressed interest in publishing my story and am open to suggestions regarding the editorial content.

I look forward to hearing your ideas.

Best wishes.

Cameron

Working With An Editor

About a week later I got my story back with substantial, marginal notes. I also received an email with some further points for consideration.

Everyone Needs An Editor

Here’s my original story with margin notes:

The In-Between Days

and although the day is nice, I feel it ease in as dusk comes. By the time we close the door behind us and, holding hands, prepare to make the long, return journey, there is a gentle pulling in my chest. [*A1] Lifting her into the car seat and strapping her in, ignoring the routine complaint of ‘Too tight!’ I give her the ritual kiss on the forehead and make my way round to the driver’s side. Staring [*A2] back at the house, realizing I’ve forgotten to close the curtains, the ice blue of the Christmas tree lights wink at me: ‘We’ll be seeing you later…’ I shake my head; snort back snot; turn the key; drive away.

[*A1 - Great opening sentence, good pace, but these infinite-verb clauses make the actions seem incidental. And the pace becomes slower.]

[*A2 - ‘Staring’ fine - you may want to slow the pace a fraction.]

Four hours later I step back through the same door and shut out the biting chill. Some of it manages to follow me in, clinging to my skin and bones like a spider. I’m shivering and it isn’t all because of the cold. It has its hold on me now. I go through the mundane tasks and retreat to bed.

I drift in and out of sleep; never sleeping for long, never awake for long. My mind fixates on the smallest aspect of a minor wrangle to do with dustbins but goes around the houses on an elaborate path that recycles plots and characters from films and books before eventually, inevitably, returning to a minor wrangle to do with dustbins. I sleep with two duvets and a hot water bottle. The sweat pours out of me into the sheets, corroding them, burning through the mattress and leaving nothing but the springs. I rest on these, something cooking on the grill, until I slip through and coagulate on the pan beneath. From here I will be scraped off and placed into the kitchen rubbish until the black bag fills and I am transported out to the dustbin. Here I will see the minor wrangle to do with the dustbins from a different, and helpless, perspective. I remain in bed for forty three hours. Amazingly, the pint of pure cranberry juice does last me. I eat nothing but four oranges.

Sunday afternoon, already dark, I make my way downstairs on joints that have been spun with glass. The living room has become cavernous in my absence, darkened and without atmosphere. My breath frosts, airlessly, in front of me. Fizzing and spitting, the blue Christmas lights dominate the corner: I can just pick out thin strands of ice, winding their way around the wire flex to concentrate in a smooth mess at the plug socket. Inwardly shuddering whilst the sickness sweats down my forehead, I hurry through austere wasteland and into the kitchen.

The trip downstairs has exhausted me. Twice I feel my head swell and once I am looking down at myself, the top of my head swaying, my hair thick with grease. As I replenish my orange supply I see the bananas move like clumsy fingers and the revulsion that I feel overpowers any sense of mystery. Despite my nausea, despite my physical weakness, and despite the ice in the living room that has spread to a soft crunch in the carpet, I flee back upstairs; I flee with the certainty that the awful hand of bananas will cumbersomely come climbing after me. SCUTTLING. Like. a. ………

It is all I can do to text in sick over the [*A3] next period: no one knocks, no one calls, no one knows; no one buys tickets to this one man show. The disembodied voices of podcasts discuss old Stanley Kubrick movies and how YouTube footage of beheadings in a gorgeously framed desert offers horror unparalleled but a louder voice shouts inside me: ‘You are truly alone.’ And the noises that come from downstairs are creaking and unpleasant. On a dizzy foray to the toilet I notice I have been coughing so hard that blood vessels have burst in my eye and I stare at my reflection for a long while. A vulture’s eye picked out by a single beam of light, a corpse dismembered and buried in golden sand.  The Tag Heuer watch keeps ticking, driving a confession from a young man who looks a lot like Mathew Modine. Has he killed him because of the fighter plane film? The red eye wide [*A4] now surely shut. Swish; thump; spurt. Tick tock, tick tock. It’s Christmas in New York. But is it New York?

[*A3 - Can you be specific?]

[*A4 - Every reading I’ve done, I stumble at this sentence. Perhaps it’s the use of ‘wide.’  Is this the narrator’s eye?]

How much later? Days? Hours? [*A5] A need to replenish the oranges overcomes terror and I make my way downstairs again. There have been some interesting developments. The carpet is smooth, hard and freezing. My feet stick to the cold surface and my ankles feel as though they will snap. The Christmas tree is now the epicentre of a sub-zero icescape, the blue lights still blinking but faster and more frantic. I breathe in and out but there is only vacuum now. Vacuum and a deadening chill. On airless wisps, I drift through the living room and into the kitchen. I aim myself at the oranges. The oranges, which are next to the bananas.

[*A5 - Change order – Hours? Days?]

My hand shakes as I reach for the fruit. I close it around one orange orb, the coolness reassuring in my sweaty palm, its surface smooth but porous, firm yet yielding. I stare at the bananas, expecting them to move. Which they do. I jump backwards, the [*A6] reaction involuntary and the bananas continue to move, twitching laboriously.  I’m horrified. I keep looking. They ripple, trying to point. It’s [*A7] so awful, the bananas are moving. My bananas are moving. Then they rear up, just momentarily, and I see something else. It’s not the bananas, it’s something else. There’s something moving under the bananas. Something under the bananas making it seem as if the bananas are moving. The bananas rear up again and I catch a better glimpse. My hand jumps [*A8] to my mouth. The orange presses to my mouth. The sour taste of peel in my mouth, stifling the scream there [*A9]. Tarantulas. There are tarantulas in the bananas.

[*A6 - We know and I think sentence more effective without this.]

[*A7 - You don’t need to tell us this – it should emerge in the writing. Wonderful image of the bananas rearing up.]

[*A8 - I’m not keen on ‘jumps.’  Also 3 x ‘mouth’ is drawing attention to itself.]

[*A9 - ‘stifling the scream’ is a strong ending. Do you need ‘there’?]

And [*A10] there is more than one. In the seconds that the bananas rear up, I can see them. A [*A11] nest. A nest of tarantulas at the bottom of the fruit bowl underneath the bananas. Their dark business, hairy with malevolence. Their awful pushings and heavings, liftings of the thick fingers of bananas; the yellow cage bars have been all that keep me safe. But yellow bars will mush to black, are already mushing to black and in between the fingers of bananas, glaring out are the sickening glints of multiple octets, diamonds of malice, dreadful hissing fangs, dripping with venom and madness. The deadly intent of a dance macabre. Coming soon, they promise; coming soon to a space near you: a diabolical dance of madness. It’s more than a mind can bear. Gripping the now crushed orange, I turn and run. Back through the kitchen and into space. Orange drips from my hand and falls upwards, my feet are slipping and sliding on the carpet and it is only the grip of the ice that keeps me from drifting ceiling-wards. I make the stairs and grab the banister, begin pulling myself back upstairs. The tiny eyes of the Christmas tree are legion in their winking, watching of my escape. And all the time I can hear the hissing, feel the eyes burning, hear the scuttling, scuttling, scuttling after me…

[*A10 - You’ve told us this in previous sentence. I think the really effective opening to para is ‘In the seconds…’   Third ‘rear’]

[*A11 - ‘A nest. A nest of …’  I think more effective without repetition.]

Another Friday evening and another heavy clunk as I close the passenger car door. I lean down and tap at the glass window until she turns her little face, soft and smiling, to look. I give a big smile back and an exaggerated wave. I wait for her to turn away before repeating the whole process again. This time her smile is bit more [*A12] knowing, a bit more weary and it will be short years before she accompanies it with a roll of the eyes. It’s been a good day and I’m feeling much better: in-between days somehow survived and in-between days ahead of me again. I walk round the car to the driver’s side but something catches my eye. I’ve forgotten to close the curtains and the ice blue lights of the Christmas tree lights wink at me [*A13]; just once. As I open the car door, I cough.

[*A12 - Sentence stronger without ‘a bit more’]

[*A13 - Would you consider turning ‘just once’ into a sentence. ‘wink at me. Just once’ ?]

Crossed Out Words

The accompanying message read:

Thank  you for your response. Attached is a copy of The In-Between Days on which I have made some comments. These are mostly subjective and minor. I hope they don't cause you any offence. The aim is to make a well-written story stronger still. If you need clarification on anything, then please let me know.

1. I love the mid-sentence opening to your story. However, I need clarification on the subject - is 'it' the day as it changes to dusk? If so, why does the day now 'ease in' just as he's about to leave his daughter? Or, is the subject, the mental change he will soon experience?

2. End page 3/page 4: I understand what you're aiming to achieve here and I like the energy and escalating horror. However, there's a good deal of repetition which I've marked in red. I wonder if the paragraph can be strengthened?

Taking Editorial Feedback On Board

My first reaction was that I‘d definitely made the right decision in entering into editorial correspondence with Fictive Dream. This kind of input was far beyond any feedback I’d received on my writing before; this was real, critical engagement. In addition, the accompanying email was phrased just so darned diplomatically that it made all of my previous anxieties melt away. I felt that virtually all of the suggested changes made the story better and disagreed on only a couple. Within a few days I sent back a reworked version of the story. What followed was a productive communication of emails that mainly focused on the opening paragraphs.

Taking into account comments [*A1] and [*A2], as well as the points raised in the email, my first rework looked like this:

The In-Between Days

and although the day is nice, I feel it ease in as dusk comes. By the time we close the door behind us and, holding hands, prepare to make the long, return journey, there is a gentle pulling in my chest. Lift her into the car seat and strap her in, ignore the routine complaint of “Too tight!” I give her the ritual kiss on the forehead and make my way round to the driver’s side. Staring back at the house, realize I’ve forgotten to close the curtains, the ice blue of the Christmas tree lights wink at me: “We’ll be seeing you later…” I shake my head; snort back snot; turn the key; drive away.

Four hours later I step back through the same door and shut out the biting chill. Some of it manages to follow me in, clinging to my skin and bones like a spider. I’m shivering and it isn’t all because of the cold. It has its hold on me now. I go through the mundane tasks and retreat to bed.

*

I attached the story to this email:

Many thanks for your editorial input on the story. It is much appreciated and I agree that it tightens the story up. I'm attaching a rework of the story which incorporates almost all of your suggestions. The removal of the -ing verb suffixes adds a more terse, hard-boiled feel to the opening which I find quite unusual but not unappealing: was this your intention?

The 'It' in the opening sentence is meant to be the oncoming condition that will last throughout 'The In-Between Days', I've now italicised 'it' throughout the opening paragraphs to create a structural theme/clue. This means that I've removed the italics from the word 'nice' as they would be more confusing if left in. Does this work for you?

I've left the word 'wide' in as this is part of a sequence of fairly abstract references to the film Eyes Wide Shut within this paragraph.

I've also left in the repeated phrase 'a bit more' at the end as this echoes some of the phrasing at the end of the children's book The Gruffalo.

The last two sentences reference the two alterations Fictive Dream suggested that I felt shouldn’t change. They’re both pretty minor but I think it’s worth including them to illustrate how this whole process felt collaborative rather than dictatorial. This feeling was born out by the swift response from Fictive Dream:

The opening paragraph is much stronger. With respect to the removed 'ing' endings, I don't hear a hard-boiled sound, just a more direct one. Closer to the reader. There appears to be an 'I' missing. The sentence could read 'I lift her into the car, strap her in and ignore the routine complaint...' I honestly think this is a much improved opening. I address the subject of the opening sentence below.

Wide Eyes Shut and The Gruffalo - agreed.

I realise now that it was the italicised 'nice' that was the problem in the opening sentence. With that resolved, it makes more sense. I see you've italicised the first 'it' and that can work. However, I would strongly recommend you don't italicise the two in the second paragraph. For me, they're a megaphone alerting readers to the very thing you have in store. Allow the chill to act as a metaphor for the protagonist's condition and trust your reader. If, by the end, some ambiguity remains, then so much the better. My only other thought is this - should the first 'it' be in normal type? I've read and re-read so many times, right now I'm not sure. I hope you're as pleased with this draft as I am.

So, with the vague textual references safely through the editorial process, I now felt very securely that I was part of a dialogue and you know what? I’m not too proud to admit that I was kind of enjoying the attention! On a more serious note, the discussion around the opening paragraphs seemed like we were really getting down to the finer, more subtle points of writing craft. From a technical point of view, this kind of input is really valuable and I firmly believe that these tweaks can help to 'hook' your reader early on and make sure that they not only finish reading the story but actually enjoy it more. Heck, maybe they’ll even like it on social media.

I responded with:

Thanks for the feedback. I've re-worked the opening paragraph a little, in light of the missing "I": I felt I needed to juggle the subsequent sentence structures a little to avoid a repetition of sentences beginning with the pronoun "I" but I think it works OK.

Thanks for your comments on the italics. I've gone for italicising just the first 'it': hopefully this presents a clue without over-emphasising the point.

My final rework of the opening paragraphs contained only subtle differences to even the original draft but I think those small changes have a big impact. Here’s what it looked like:

The In-Between Days

and although the day is nice, I feel it ease in as dusk comes. By the time we close the door behind us and, holding hands, prepare to make the long, return journey, there is a gentle pulling in my chest. I lift her into the car seat, strap her in and ignore the routine complaint of “Too tight!” Giving her the ritual kiss on the forehead, I make my way round to the driver’s side. I stare back at the house, realize I’ve forgotten to close the curtains, the ice blue of the Christmas tree lights wink at me: “We’ll be seeing you later…” I shake my head; snort back snot; turn the key; drive away.

Four hours later I step back through the same door and shut out the biting chill. Some of it manages to follow me in, clinging to my skin and bones like a spider. I’m shivering and it isn’t all because of the cold. It has its hold on me now. I go through the mundane tasks and retreat to bed.

*

The second paragraph had an interesting journey: it went via a dabble in italicization to finish up exactly the same as in the original draft. But I’d argue that it was a necessary journey and one that was an intrinsic part of the overall improvement to the story’s opening. Fictive Dream felt the same way:

Perfect - thank  you. It's been a pleasure to work with you and I'm looking forward to publishing the story. I'll be in contact soon about images and a publication date.

Thank you again for all your effort in getting the story to this point. I'd be pleased to receive future submissions from you.

And the final draft went up on the site on 21st June 2016. This, in itself, was a great experience. Have you looked at the Fictive Dream site? If you haven’t, you really should. The whole area looks very slick, is easily navigable and you don’t have to sign in or register to see what’s there; it’s very user friendly. In addition, I think that they select great images to accompany each story and the writers have input into this as well; I was particularly pleased with mine.

Conclusion

So, what to take away from this?

First, the obvious: if you’re in the business of submitting short stories you could do a lot worse than sending your work to Fictive Dream. Their editorial process is exceptional and, once published, your work will look great and be easy to share on social media.

Perhaps the most important thing that I took away from this experience, though, was learning how important someone else’s input could be in my development as a reflective practitioner: a story doesn’t have to be 'finished' once you’ve saved your final draft and sent it out for consideration. If you’re open to receiving constructive advice on your work, it can still be made a whole lot better through incorporating someone else’s perspective. It also makes you feel that your work is beginning to connect with other people.

I believe that most of my anxieties about Fictive Dream’s initial suggestion of editorial change lay in me feeling that someone else’s input would somehow reduce my ownership of the story; that collaboration would somehow result in co-writing. I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who feels like that about their work; we writers can be quite a possessive crew. Think if Gollum was a short story writer: that’s us. Obviously I’m not suggesting that you accommodate the opinions of every Tom, Dick and Bilbo who wants to read drafts of your work, you have to have respect for the opinion of whoever is critiquing you and I was lucky enough to hit gold with Fictive Dream, but even before then I was starting to listen to a friend who asked some difficult questions about an earlier draft of the story.

My final bet is that most of us have got a friend or two who could do that for us. Not only will answering those difficult questions probably result in a better draft of the story, but the very process will bring someone else along for the ride. Give it a try. And check out Fictive Dream, the site rocks and the stories are great.

back to top

Big Thanks To Cameron

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Cameron. It takes a lot of courage to share this kind of experience publicly, as having your writing critiqued can be a very personal journey. But this kind of case study, using real-life examples, is so helpful. It can set expectations for writers that have yet to experience this kind of process and help them understand how beneficial working with a professional editor can be.

If you're a published writer and would like to write about your experiences for me, please take a look at my submission guidelines.

How to Write a Short Story book ad

back to top

Leave your comments

Please use the form below to leave your comments. All comments will be reviewed so won't appear on the page instantly. I will not share your details with anyone else. Most recent comments appear at the bottom of the page, oldest at the top.

Your Details:

Please prove you're a human by entering the security code in the box below: 8966

Comments:

Your comments:

Cath B
I also had an extremely good experience of working with Laura at Fictive Dream. Highly recommended.

Chris Fielden
Hi Cath, great stuff, thanks for your feedback :-)

ST R
Thanks for sharing this, Chris. It's given me a warm sense of validation. Cameron's experience affirms the journey my writing partner (Robb) and I have been on for the last four years. Without knowing if we were doing it 'correctly', we stumbled into a back-and-forth rhythm that roughly mirrors Cameron and Laura's, but with less sensitivity and more, "It sounds too authory, but I don't know how you should fix it."

I learned Robb's greatest gifts are his fertile mind and his ability to identify inauthenticity and 'authory' tones in my writing and my re-writing of his writing. (We agreed early on that I would provide our consistent voice.) Eight non-professional beta readers shared constructive critiques with us before we submitted our first novel to an agent who had requested the entire manuscript based on the first 15 pages of an early draft.

As Cameron suggests, collaboration has benefits. The agent offered professional insights about pacing and point of view, and asked us to do some editing and rewriting before resubmitting the manuscript. Another round of beta readers followed (seven this time, including two of the original eight). The book is now back in the agent's hands.

This year, I ventured alone into the world of short story competitions. I  still seek criticism from people whose opinions I value, before I hit 'Send'. The result has been two of the three stories being published in anthologies. That seems to support inviting informed outside opinions of your work. We don't have to write in a dark, lonely vacuum.

Chris Fielden
Thanks for your input, Susan - much appreciated. And really great to hear about your experiences and how they've helped you gain good results.

My own experiences mirror yours and Cameron's. I'm a member of a writing group and we regularly meet up and critique each other's work. Gaining feedback has helped me learn and become a better writer - it still does. Other members of the group will spot mistakes I miss, so I often end up editing based on the critiques prior to submitting, which helps me enjoy more publishing success.

You're right - writing doesn't have to be lonely. There are plenty of opportunities out there to share your work with others in a positive, nurturing environment.

I wish you the best of luck with your novel and hope to hear that the agent has decided to take your book on in the future :-)

Yin Y
Dear Chris, the article about using an editor is very useful but can you give an idea of how much it costs?

Chris Fielden
Hi Yin. In Cameron’s example, there was no cost involved. This is because his story had already been accepted for publication.

However, you can pay to work with editors prior to submitting anywhere. I used JBWB to edit/critique my book, Wicked Game, in the late noughties – I think it was around 2008. Back then it cost about £300 to have an 80,000 word book proofread. I suspect that price will have gone up by now.

If you’re looking to have short stories critiqued by a professional, it can be a lot cheaper. You can see what I charge in the Services section of my website. There are also some other service providers listed in the advice section of my site on the Free Writing Critiques page. This resource lists online writing communities that offer free feedback on a story, but there is also a list of paid, professional opportunities on the page. So that might be a good place to start your research.

I hope that’s helpful :-)

Keith K
So wanted to disagree with the editor. So wanted to be rooting for Cameron's integrity. But just couldn't. 90% of her suggestions were on the money.

Yin Y
Dear Chris, thank you for your prompt response.

Yes, cost is a consideration in finding an editor.

But there are other considerations too:

  1. Whether the editor is familiar with (or even like) the genre. In my case - cultural/social/political.
  2. Whether the editor knows the background and hence the nuances etc.
  3. Will a rapport be built up between author and editor? Without trust it's difficult to work with someone on something like this.

Or do you think the above is not relevant or not so important?

Chris Fielden
Hi Yin. Yes, I agree with you – all of those things are important.

You can research an editor’s background, or email them and ask about their experience prior to working with them. That covers your first 2 points. OK, you will never know for sure until you work with someone, but usually a bit of research will help you make the right decision.

Regarding your third point, you can’t really tell unless you try working with someone. And then, you need to give it a bit of time to understand how they work and whether it suits you.

I think joining a writing group is a good way to gain feedback and building rapport/trust. Maybe you could try that? I’ve been in a group that critique each other’s work for a few years now and have found that incredibly helpful.

Cameron D
Thanks for this Cath, ST, Yin & Keith: nice to see that the article has prompted a bit of discussion.

Perhaps it's worth emphasising the importance of finding an editorial process that the writer feels comfortable with? There are good editors and bad editors, as in all fields. Personal recommendations are often a good way in and that's part of what I've tried to do in the feature.

Yin it looks like you're looking for someone quite niche: perhaps you could do a shout out in the message feed or somewhere else for tips on good editors working in his genre?

Chris, I think your point about joining a writing group is really good: I'd also encourage people to take all initial advice with a pinch of salt as not all advice offered may be of good quality, even when offered with the best of intentions.

Keith K - I'd be happy to help you edit your posts for expression errors. Meeow!

Yin Y
Dear Chris. Thank you. I will give your suggestion of getting a group to critique some thought.

One possible snag is I may not be able to reciprocate - not really qualified to comment on other writers. Do you have anyone in mind?

Chris Fielden
Hi Yin. With a writing group, you don’t have to be qualified. A lot of it is subjective. In the group I’m in, we’ve all become more experienced together and continuously learn. We just share an interest in writing and performing short stories. It’s a local group based in Bristol, UK, so meet up rather than doing everything online.

Working with a paid professional is different, but I think a group can be an excellent place to start.

If you prefer to work online, there are lots of supportive writing communities you can become involved in. Take a look at the ones listed here. I hope that helps.