I managed to finish and post off my entry to the Wells Festival of Literature Short Story Competition. Those of you who read this blog regularly might remember this was the story that originally emerged as a bloated 3,500 word beast that needed reining in. I set myself a goal on this blog to trim that story by about half of its word count. The final word count was 1,900. The resulting story a much snappier piece of short fiction. Special thanks to Jentropy for reading the early monster draft and providing thoughtful feedback.
The remainder of the five days have been spent finally starting a longer story. For a while I have wanted to write something I can read with my eldest son. The story has been rolling around in my notebooks and the cavernous interior of my head for quite a while and I used this opportunity to get this longer project underway. I even went out and bouught myself a cork noticeboard and file cards and have the whole plot pinned up in place; the beauty of which is I can move and replace cards as the story develops. Yes, I’ve gone all kinaesthetic writer. I’m 7,500 words with a target of 10,000 for the end of the week. I’m due to pick the family up from the airport later this evening so I’ll be trying to get as much of the remainder of my target done this afternoon as I can.
After spending nearly a week writing for large chunks of the day I am buzzing with enthusiasm and energy for what I am doing. It’ll be nice to have them home now though, the house was starting to feel a little empty. I can heartily recommend a writer’s staycation retreat. I have had six days to get to know my characters, work through their troubles and decide their fates. Without a two year old tornadoing around the house I have been able to spread my stuff all over the living room floor without fear of him eating my index cards or punching a hole in my corkboard. Best of all I have had time to think and let my characters emerge without time pressure.
The next few weeks will be full on summer holidays mode. Daytrips and activities with the kids abound. Here’s hoping I have the energy in the evenings to keep up the momentum. Somehow I think my characters will be clamouring for some attention.
Take one of [your] longer narrative exercises — any one that went over 400 words — and cut it by half…….take any piece of narrative prose you have ever written, 400–1000 words, and do this terrible thing to it.
This doesn’t mean cutting a little bit here and there, snipping and pruning — though that’s part of it. It means counting the words and reducing them to half that many, while keeping the narrative clear and the sensory impact vivid, not replacing specifics by generalities, and never using the word ‘somehow.’
If there’s dialogue in your piece, cut any long speech or long conversation in half just as implacably.
I have never managed to do this . I’ve tried once or twice since reading the passage, but I have always been too weak. So I am going to try it with my latest piece of short fiction ‘On The Shelf,’ which I completed in first draft yesterday. I did give it a read through yesterday but I am obviously not being severe enough as I only managed to trim 147 words from a manuscript of over 3,500. I can see I will have to find the literary butcher in me to do what must be done.
The hard part will obviously be stripping the piece down by 1,700 or so words while still maintaining the narrative and descriptive depth. My aim is to get the piece down to 2,000 words. I would be pleased with that. The fact that the prize I intend to enter the story for has a 2,000 word limit is a great incentive too.
Just the thought of this makes me anxious. Which probably means it is a good thing to do. I may well go back to reinstate some of the trimmed darlings, but the actual process should teach me something about how I write and how I edit. Even failure should reveal something. I’m off to find a really big pair of scissors.
Looking forward to focusing on an altogether more light-hearted tale called On the Shelf. I think I need some more wholesome characters and action to flush out the grimness. Anyone else find themselves glad to see the back of a story or characters once the drafting is done?