Writing “The Chosen Ones”

So, Daily Science Fiction recently published my short story “The Chosen Ones.” It’s my third “pro” story published. The other two, also published in Daily Science Fiction, came to me pretty easily–I think I spent five minutes writing “Chrysalis” and another five minutes revising it. This latest one, though? It was incredibly difficult. I think it took approximately two years from when I first got the idea to Daily Science Fiction publishing it–and it’s a flash piece just a bit longer than 500 words. It feels self-indulgent to give a “behind the scenes” look at what went into the story, but I thought it might provide some motivation to other writers.

I first got the idea in the summer of 2018. Prior to that, I had rolled my eyes at the chosen one trope. It seemed so boring. Until I read a Reddit comment saying how there’s an undercurrent of existential horror inherent in the trope: a person bound by fate.

That got my mind going–there was a lot of opportunity for Kafkaesque situations–and I soon began drafting two stories, one a flash fiction piece, about the same length as the version that was eventually published, and another much, much longer, one I envisioned being a short novelette, about different incarnations of chosen ones repeatedly failing. The short one I finished; the long one stalled at ~1,500 words and I abandoned it there (note to writers: don’t do this–at least finish the first draft).

The short one didn’t feel right, however, so I let it sit for a month, eventually expanding it into about 2,000 words. But that wasn’t right either, so I let it sit some more.

With most stories, I probably would have tried submitting it to various venues at that point. There usually comes a point during the revision process where I am not completely happy with a piece, but I can tell that anything short of a major rewrite wouldn’t do much to improve it–a rewrite that could easily become its own unique story, thereby giving me two pieces to shop around. So I just start submitting the piece.

I didn’t do that here, though. I felt like there was a really good story waiting to be told, and I’d be doing it a disservice to send it out.

What I eventually did was rewrite it entirely. The resulting story was about 4,000 words long and, I thought, the best thing I had ever written. It had action. It got philosophical. It was filled with what I considered beautiful writing. But in an objective sense it was complete crap, though I didn’t realize it at the time. That epiphany only came after a few rejections, whereupon I took the best parts and cut out the rest, and then looked at the best parts and cut half of that out. This one was closest to the idea in my head. I did a few minor revisions after that, but the resulting story was pretty much what Daily Science Fiction eventually accepted and published.

Still with me?

That flash fiction story took me four almost completely different drafts (not counting the abandoned one) over the course of two years to nail down and get right. And even then, it received a slew of rejections before it found a home. A flash fiction piece. In the grand scheme of stories, it’s relatively tiny.

But I really believed in my idea and kept working on it. And in the end my belief in it paid off–not just because I got published, but because I did true justice to the idea that had been rattling around my mind for so long. So, if you’re working on a story or novel you really believe in, keep at it, even if you’re not completely into your current draft. It may take much longer than you initially thought, and the final form may be very different from what you had at first envisioned, but it will be very much worth it.

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