As I reread the story, I realized that although it made me ravenously hungry for a tostada, the horror and reaction were confined to three or four sentences, and fundamentally, it was a lackluster piece of work. What could I do? Give it a snappier opening and closing!
My original opening was:
The second or third summer after my parents moved to Richland, my father grew jalapeño pepper plants from seed and gave us a few starter plants for our garden. Those plants thrived in the narrow bed along the back of the house where they had full sun every summer afternoon. By the time they were ripe, they were hot as a pistol.I changed this to read:
I never guessed that the seedling jalapeño pepper plants my father gave us for our garden might prove to be the cause of his early demise. Those plants….The original ending was:
…He managed to scrape off most of the spicy mixture, and we all enjoyed the new dish immensely.The new one read:
…We all laughed. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I laughed with relief that my father had not succumbed to his own chili at my hand.The new opening and closing are definitely snappier, and the writing group I shared the two versions with with heartily endorsed the second. There’s just one problem: the revision may be more esthetically pleasing, but — the ending isn’t entirely honest and true to my recollection. The first one is.
I use this story to illustrate a dilemma life story writers may face as we strive to become more creative and polished. We can polish the life and truth right out of the story. These are the times we need to bluntly ask ourselves, “Am I writing this story primarily to entertain people, or to tell it like it was?” The answer matters, and our readers will know the difference.
If the balance weighs in on the side of entertainment, then why let a few facts get in the way of a good story? Go for the gusto and laughs and polish up that ending. In fact, polishing it to an obvious spoof may be a desirable option. If you are telling things like they were, stick with the truth.
Truth, or spoof? It’s your call. Just be clear with yourself about which side of the fence you’re on.
You’ll know when it matters, to yourself and to the future, and you’ll always be true in those moments.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal