Once upon a time, there was a short story that bravely set out to change the world. It was certain that it had something important to say. The story knew there was a reader waiting for it, all it needed to do was find its way there.
Its lines were carefully packed with goodies sure to delight. There were silly puns and thoughtful metaphors and underneath it all there was an enduring message of hope. It was not too sweet and not too sour. It was just right.
Unfortunately, the story had to cross the dark forest of the editorial process in order to reach the reader. The author sent the story on its way with a word of caution. “Be careful who you listen to in the woods. Not everyone has your best interests at heart.”
“I’ll be fine,” the story said. “The woods don’t scare me.”
But the woods were scarier than the story thought. It was dark in the woods, and very confusing. Sometimes the story wasn’t sure which way to go. The story remembered hearing rumors that stories could be lost in the editorial process forever, never reaching any readers at all. Suddenly, the short story was terrified.
Just then, a friendly amateur editor greeted the story. “Little story, what are you doing in the woods?”
“I’ve come to deliver goodies to my reader. She’s waiting for me at the other end of the woods.”
The editor smiled a wide smile, “That’s wonderful. But did you know that you have a comma out of place right there? And are you sure that’s the right word choice? It implies entirely the wrong thing for the context. In fact, I think you are headed in entirely the wrong direction. Let me give you a few pointers, or you’ll never make it out of here.”
The little story took notes. Then, just as it looked down to check the comma, the amateur editor slipped away, and changed all the road signs as he went. The short story quickly lost its way.
It got stuck in unexpected swamps of indecision, and second guessed all its metaphors. Thorny bushes of self-criticism tore up the silly puns. The story clung desperately to its hope and trudged its way through the long paths of grammar and spelling checks.
It was not the same story once it emerged from the woods. And the little house on the other side of the woods was not the house that the short story expected to see. Had the reader moved?
The short story straightened its lines and knocked on the door. “Hello?” it called. “Were you expecting a story?”
“Come in,” called a strange voice.
The story hesitantly entered the not-quite-familiar house. “Where are you?” the story asked.
“Just in here, dear.”
The story followed the voice and found the reader tucked away in bed, already wearing her reading glasses. But she didn’t look quite right. In fact, everything about her seemed a little bit off.
“Reader, what big eyes you have,” the story said nervously.
“That’s just the glasses. They magnify things, you know.”
“Reader, did you always have pointy ears on top of your head?”
“Silly story, how could I keep my reading glasses on without ears?”
The story looked at the reader again. Something was really wrong here. “Reader, why are your teeth so sharp?”
“The better to criticize you unfairly,” the reader roared, and sprang out of the bed. But it wasn’t the reader at all. It was the friendly amateur editor. But the editor wasn’t looking so friendly any longer.
The story gasped. “What did you do to the reader?”
“What reader?” The amateur editor laughed. “I think you need to be set aside. You just don’t really have the potential you used to have. Maybe someday the writer can figure out what went wrong. For now, there aren’t any readers waiting for you at all. You are just a terrible story.”
With a cry of dismay, the short story prepared itself to be shut away in a drawer, little read and little remembered. And that’s just what happened. Fortunately, the story still had its message of hope to keep it company in the dark drawer.
A long time later, the writer came across the story again. “Oh, dear. This little story certainly met an unfriendly editor. Look at all the changes. It’s hardly the same story at all. And it had so much potential. Its heart is still good. I think I can revive it.”
The little read story was rescued from the dark drawer and set on its feet. Its goodies were restored, better than before. The next time through the woods, it stayed focused and didn’t get distracted or lost. The short story found its reader and delivered its metaphors and puns and message of hope. It was no longer little read or little remembered. It was loved. The story and the reader lived happily ever after, and the world was just a little bit better.