I ended up with the most supportive and constructive feedback. My CPs were the best and I appreciate you so much! I am constantly overwhelmed by how supportive the writing community can be. Be sure to look at their stories because they were so heartfelt and suspenseful.
I got a little carried away with note taking and processing my thoughts on the feedback, so I’ll save that for the end. For your enjoyment, here is draft three (WITH A BRAND NEW TITLE!!).
A TENSE EXPERIENCE
This was it. Her final resting place. She was going to die on this dumb mountain without even reaching the top.
“Come on, Wildcat,” Matt called back, already an annoying distance up the trail. “If we drop below fifty this bus will blow.”
“Screw that, Keanu. Let the mountain take me.”
“It can’t be much further,” Matt repeated for the seventh time in the past hour. His perfect ass was no longer enough motivation to keep going.
“Oh wow. Tessa, look at this view! It’s so beautiful.”
They were on a mountain in a national park. Every bend had a beautiful view, and she was getting pretty damn sick of them. Jesus help her, if he did another handstand, she would push him off this mountain.
Dragging her feet up the path to where he stopped, she looked out where the trees parted, revealing a clear view. The mountains faded into the distance from a deep, rocky grey to ocean blue and a pale purple. It was gorgeous. If she wasn’t sweating like a pig and gasping like a fish on a freaking mountain this could almost be considered romantic.
“This would be the perfect backdrop for another inversion.” Matt interrupted her musing.
Before she could respond, he tossed her his phone, threw off his shirt, and flipped himself into a perfect handstand on the cliff.
“But, babe. Look at this view.” He switched his weight to one hand so he could point to the mountains behind him, and she seethed. Could he at least look tired? “My followers will love it. Do it for the gram, babe.”
“I’m hot. I’m tired. And I don’t even like tea!”
“It’s not about the tea. It’s about the journey to the top.”
“Yeah, pass.” He was a nice guy and the sex was amazing, but she didn’t need another platitude on how “inversions” were about focusing on your foundation. “Don’t get dead,” she called back over her shoulder as she started down the mountain.
“No, wait.” There was an anxious note to his voice that made her turn just in time to see him wobble.
Her eyes met his for an infinite moment, her feet rooted in disbelief, as he tumbled out of view.
Tessa was surprised to see Keanu Reeves flash before her eyes. Hours and hours of dramatic explosions and cheesy one-liners while sitting on a lumpy, upcycled couch with boxes of takeout and Matt laughing and cheering Keanu on with her. This was supposed to be something casual. And even if it wasn’t, he was supposed to be safe. Miles up a mountain and he’s still doing handstands. He was supposed to be indestructible, someone who could carry her hopes and fears–her heart–and never die.
“Tessa?” A soft call came from over the ledge. “Are you still there?”
Her heart felt like it had stopped and was restarting as she ran to the edge to find that the cliff was not as sheer as she thought. He clung to the face like a baby opossum on its mother maybe five feet below her.
“Matt! I’m here.”
“I don’t think I can move.” He shifted, and the gravel beneath him began to trickle precariously.
“Hold on, I’ll find help.” The trail, however, remained stubbornly empty of assistance.
“Thanks, Tessa. I really appreciate you, but I might have overdone it with the inversions, and I’m not sure how long I can hang on.”
Damn it! Matt and his handstands. She whipped off her shirt, a shallow part of her glad she picked her cute sports bra for the hike.
Crouching, she slithered to the edge of the cliff, holding a sapling with her free hand to anchor herself. “Ok, I’m going to lower this down to you, but you’re a meaty giant, and I can’t pull you up on my own. Can you do it?” She lowered her shirt over the edge. Stretching as far as she could, it landed about a foot above his head. It would have to be enough.
“Tessa, I’m scared.”
“Pop quiz, hotshot. You’re stuck on a mountain face, and this is your only way out. What do you do?”
He chuckled. “Thank goodness this isn’t a ‘shoot the hostage’ situation.”
Taking a deep breath, he performed some sort of jump and scramble until he caught the end of her shirt. Tessa’s arm felt like ripping from its socket, but she held on. She could be strong for him, too.
His hand reached the ledge and he was wrapping himself around her before he even fully pulled himself up. “My hero,” he proclaimed, planting small kisses along her cheek and neck until she was laughing too hard to breathe.
“I have to warn you,” she said. “I’ve heard relationships based on tense experiences never work.”
“We’ll have to base it on sex then,” he replied, giving her ear a nip.
A chuckle from outside their embrace brought their attention back to the world around them. A couple appeared from further up the trail, both of them blowing at steaming to-go cups, their presence a reminder that this trail was notsupposed to be death-defying.
“We’re almost there!” Matt grabbed her hand, leading her the few yards up the mountain until the trees parted, and there in a clearing sat a small cottage with a neatly printed sign over the door stating ‘Teahouse.’
Matt walked straight inside and up to the register.
“Two chai teas, please.” Tessa was surprised how much she liked that he remembered the one tea she would drink. He placed his card confidently down on the counter for the barista to take.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she replied. “We only take cash.”
He turned back to Tessa, his eyes wide and covered his mouth with both hands. “I didn’t even think about bringing cash,” he mumbled through his fingers.
Tessa burst out laughing. “This wasn’t even about the tea. Remember?”
I asked for more big picture and clarity feedback for this round. While I would love to just add a few commas and call it a day, this earlier stage of editing was all about making the content make sense. I’ll beg my next group of CPs for line edits.
Problems to solve:
- Make the mountain path more clear: show that while it’s annoyingly steep, it’s not supposed to be as treacherous a path as they made it
- Redundant words: distant/distance, mountain, done
- The fall sounds like Matt’s POV and should still be Tessa’s: how can Tessa turn to leave and still make eye contact with Matt before he falls over the cliff?
- Tessa’s reaction to Matt falling: there’s no physical reaction mentioned, and while I picture her freezing out of her insecurities with relationships in general, this is not expressed. Make it clearer!
- The flash to Keanu is a little confusing: is Keanu sitting on the couch with them? She wishes.
- Reaction to him falling: Tessa reacts quickly to learning Matt is still alive, but we don’t get her emotional reaction
- Tessa rescuing Matt: make her position while lowering her shirt more visually clear for the reader.
- Transition from rescuing Matt to hugging: it’s not there. Do we need to see it visually while we read? should there be some emotion? relief that they made it? embarrassment that they had a near death experience on a relatively easy hiking trail?
- The other couple comes down the mountain: this is a perfect opportunity to show that the path was not supposed to be this difficult. See: other hikers with to-go cups of tea. Also, make sure it’s clear that the other couple is coming DOWN the mountain.
- The end: is this an appropriate closing thought for Tessa? Her final revelation feels like the end of a character arc that maybe the readers were kept from because her emotions aren’t out on her sleeve like Matt. Show more of an arc/emotional journey if you’re keeping her final stage/statement.
Sweet baby Jesus, that’s so much to work on. And I have… 3 words of wiggle room to keep it under 1000 words. Stomach dropping, crying, this is the end. Ok. Now I need a plan. I will pick the three Big Things that (I feel) will have the biggest impact on the story, and I’ll take them one at a time. Then, review and see if the other stuff was magically fixed as well. Ok. Game Plan. Queue up Speed soundtrack. Oh, wow. That’s a real thing and it’s very intense. We’ll see how long this last, but Billy Idol isn’t a bad place to start. Now, I’m distracted! Back to the Three Big Things.
- Clear up the Keanu flashback
1) Tessa’s reaction to Matt falling: how does she see it and what is her emotional reaction?
Wow editing is difficult. So, to figure out how to handle the first item on the list, I decided to dig a little deeper into Matt’s POV. Why is he doing handstands on a mountain? What brought him here?
I realized that he’s a really sweet guy who really does believe that his yoga centered Instagram can help make people happier, and he provides motivational sayings with his posts. I also realized that, while he’s a little vain and vapid at times, he’s head over heels about Tessa and this is something that can come across in his yoga. When doing balance poses, the easiest way (I’ve found) to keep you balance is to focus on something solid and channel that in your pose. I wanted to metaphorically show that Matt had channeled his relationship with Tessa in his pose. He may take it for granted at times (hence tossing the camera to her assuming she will just go with his request), but his confidence in the relationship is what keeps him confident in his pose. So when Tessa turns away to go back down the mountain, his foundation cracks and he loses his balance.
2) Keanu Reeve’s flashback and Tessa’s emotional arc
Something in Tessa’s past has made her close herself off to serious relationships and, hopefully, this becomes apparent during her flashback when she describes Matt as indescribable. The first, and easiest fix, was making it sound like she’s on a couch with Matt and not Keanu Reeves. I rewatched the movie to make sure I had this one sentence right, so there’s two hours of my life well spent.
This is the start of the arc. Tessa has several blasé remarks about Matt at the start of the story, but during this flashback, we see that she’s been holding back despite her best efforts. The moment when she thinks she lost him is when she realizes how much she really had counted on him to always be there. When he calls her name and she learns he’s still there, this is her chance to open up and let him in. Time to whip out ye olde Emotional Thesaurus.
3) Clear up transition from pulling Matt up their reunion
This one was a riddle. I’m already ten words over limit, so how do I add a transition between pulling him up the cliff and them celebrating. In the end, I realized I could move the action to the front of the sentence and delay the dialog until after he’s climbed to the top. Honestly, all of these problems would be solved if I had like fifty more words in my word limit but c’est la vie. Maybe next short story I’ll try putting in less action so I have more room to talk about it.