There are stories sometimes that feel perfect when you’ve finished them, but you discover they are not perfect. You may discover this on your own, reading over your handiwork the next day, or a week or a month later. Or it may be that a friend is needed to show you why you’re missing the big picture. (Even those authors who bash workshops and MFAs have people on their acknowledgement pages.)
There are stories where you finish them, and you feel like they’re just absolutely right, and very little if anything will need changing. And then you show them to people who have no reason to lie or overestimate your work, and they agree. These are rare, and not worth thinking about.
But then there are stories that you know are broken when you finish writing them (for the first, or fifth, or Nth time). They rattle a little when you shake them, and that’s the sound of pieces inside, loose and unattached to wherever they were supposed to be. You know there’s something in there not working, some gear busted, or some bit of wiring that’s come unsoldered, something like that, but you can’t see quite where it is that something went wrong. You unscrew a little, you shake it some more, switch it to various settings, and you realize that you’re just not going to see it.
I have written a few stories like that, and I can tell you now that a crit group is not always the cure for them. Not even a great group like the one I have now. Sometimes, they can tell you everything that’s wrong, and you still have no clear idea of what you ought to be doing to fix it, because what’s apparently wrong is often just, well, symptomatic of where you went wrong in the bigger, deeper, sense.
Still, I think the going-wrong of the story I finished today is not quite so chronic and not quite so deadly as that. The ending was hard, as endings sometimes are. It will probably take a little more shaping and squishing and reshaping and cursing and reshaping again. But I have a draft of “The Bride’s Tears, Centuries Old, in the Rain” in the tin film can, and at 6200 words now, that’s a pretty great feat, considering I only picked it up yesterday and it was about 1200 words then.
We’ll see when it gets to crit, though. One of the things for a story that’s not quite right is to let it sit. Sometimes, it behaves like jello, getting more delicious and better-textured when it sets a little. And, at least, a little clearer. We’ll see what it looks like in a week or two.