A Tale of Two Stories

I recently read the same story twice. One version was published in a pro SF magazine. One version is unpublished. (And if you are in my online or offline writing group, or have recently posted a story on your blog, don’t worry, it’s not yours!) No, this is not an example of plagiarism, it’s just two authors having the same idea at similar times. The pro story is unsurprisingly better written, by someone who cares about each word. It’s also longer, and the author made good use of the length. The two stories cover the same events almost exactly, and with the same characters.

Reading them so close together was a great lesson in point of view. Here’s the thing: if your point of view character is observing the action rather than participating in it, why? That only distances the reader from the story. And if even the main character can’t change anything, even their attitude towards events, why are you telling the story?

The pro story dropped me into the head of the character who was suffering the most, kept me there, let me experience her thoughts and feelings (this is where making good use of the length comes in), and at the end, had her make a key decision about the rest of her life. The unpublished story didn’t do any of that, and as a result, it fell flat.

Now if I can just remember this lesson when writing my own stuff.

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