Monday, August 22, 2011

A writing lesson learned

Before I dive into a novella that's been brewing in the back of my brain for the past few months, I've been working to finish a short story. It quickly became a longer piece of short fiction than I originally imagined, which was a problem because my intention was to submit the story to an anthology that had a maximum word count of 7,000 words. I managed to let the the story grow to over 8,500 words by the time I was done with the first draft.

I liked what I had written, but I needed to cut 1,500 words. Taking a good, hard look at the piece, I decided I could remove my two lead characters' interaction with a third character, and either gloss over their meeting or even skip it altogether. Snip, snip, cut, and done.

But now the timeline of the story has this unnecessary pit stop at a location where it only made sense to even bother writing about unless my leads meet up with the now-excised character. So I cut that, too, and squinted at what was left of the story to see if I could stitch it all back together.

And I could, but I needed to change the ending.

So for a few moments, the story was down to less-than-7,000-words . . . until I added the new ending, and I managed to get down to 7,500 words.

At this point, I needed a bit of distance and maybe another set of eyes on the story, so I printed it up and handed it off to Brenda. While I was printing this draft of the still-untitled-story, she asked me how much this anthology would pay if they accepted my story. Off the top of my head, I didn't remember, so I pulled up the publisher's website and told Bren what the payrate was.

And then I noticed right beneath it that the word max was listed as "around 7,000 words."

Around.

Sure, 8,500-plus words is a bit more than "around" 7,000-words, but 7,500? I think I could probably pass that off if the story is as tight as it could be. And after trimming it as much as I did, I think it is (but we'll see what Bren says!).

I'm looking at this as a learning experience. If I can completely eliminate a character from a story and the story still works without him/her, the character was unnecessary from the beginning; the same can be said of a location.

It's something I'll keep in mind while breaking down my novella.