Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Paring

So, I had finally completed what I believed was a decent draft of my Shared Storytelling: Six Birds short. The characters' motivations appeared more-or-less believable. The clunkiness had gotten mostly smoothed out from the transitions. And I thought the plot seemed basically coherent. I was pleased. Then I ran a word count and suddenly wasn't at all. The result? 1,240 words.

Not a gargantuan narrative by any means. But the self-imposed limit was a thousand. I had to lose one-fifth of my story.

My first attempt at paring went easily enough. After all, I'd shorn 6,500-word manuscripts down to tidy 4,000-word lengths before, much greater trimmings than what I currently faced in both absolute and proportional terms. Out went extraneous descriptions, favorite turns of phrase, colorful internal dialogues. Simple, I thought, punching up the count again to reveal -- 1,087.

Hmmm, not quite there. The print spat out another copy, the paper still warm as I paged through. Only this time the candidates for compositional extermination didn't bravely step forward. They huddled in the shadows and screeched when I dragged them out. Seriously, this wasn't fun anymore. Another trip to the toolbar revealed I still had thirty-five words to go.

This round went beyond slicing away fat. I was into muscle and sinew and bone, trying not to cripple the thing as I cut. It hurt, truly pained me to dig this deeply merely to meet my own arbitrary standards. I did it though, got the story down to 986 words, then punched the save button and pushed away from the computer. If anything, such hard editing is an exercise in humility. Though our words seem precious to us, bought with time and toil, in truth it seems as though we can always do without some of them.

(Picture: CC 2010 by
gfpeck)

9 comments:

Loren Eaton said...

Post Script: Whether or not I was successful I will leave to you all to judge on Saturday!

Lady Glamis said...

Good job on cutting! That can be so difficult, I know.

For short stories, if I know I have to stay under a certain word count, I watch the words as I write so I can determine as I go what I cannot add. I'm not sure if that's the best way to go about it, but it has worked for me so far. I think my piece is 986 words, too. :)

Lady Glamis said...

We're supposed to post these on our own blogs, right?

Loren Eaton said...

We're on the same wavelength! Your technique, though, sounds markedly less painful.

Yes, you post them on your blog, email B. and I, and then we'll link to them. The end result should look like this.

Lady Glamis said...

Awesome, thank you. I hope posting it on my blog doesn't get me in trouble. I sent it to a literary mag awhile ago because it totally fit what they wanted. I thought I would hear back by now if it was a yay or nay, but I haven't. Oh well. I may post it for a day and then take it down. I know, shame shame on me. Maybe I should just write another one...hah.

Scattercat said...

I do think there is a lower limit to cutting, sometimes. The arbitrary limits can sometimes be restrictive enough that something just should not be within them. Like a goldfish in a too-small bowl...

Loren Eaton said...

Yes, agreed. Also, some stories just require a certain length to work well, and I was worried that I'd dipped below that threshold. Don't think that I did, but we'll see.

Donna Hole said...

I'm sure your story will be awesome Loren.

Mine's going to be a bit rough because I'm still finishing it. How did I get half way there and get stuck?

It will be posted, however. Oh; after reading throught he conversation, I guess I didn't read the directions well.

I think I need a nap.

.......dhole

Loren Eaton said...

How did I get half way there and get stuck?

This happens to me, like, every single time I write something. Yah! Not fun.