Sunday, May 11, 2014

Reveal, Advance, or Get Out of My Story

I recently wrote a short story and decided to submit it to a publication. I hired our own novelspaces co-ordinator, Liane, who did a brilliant line edit on it and I was about to submit it when I re-read the submission requirements.

Maximum word count: 3,500 words.

Yikes! My story was pushing 5,000 words. I had to drop a third of it and quick.

I'm sure that publications have their reasons for limiting the number of words, but these limits keep authors honest. Kurt Vonnegut is said to have said "Every sentence must do one of two things--reveal character or advance the action. So I trimmed everything that didn't do either of these things and found myself with 3,450 words that expressed everything that needed to be said about my characters and the situation in which they found themselves.

What had been in those 1,500 words anyway?

It was a difficult process. I get attached to scenes and sentences I feel are catchy. Or one can get hung up on teaching the audience a particular lesson which may not emerge naturally from the plot. In the latter case, we manipulate the characters' actions and words so that my viewpoints come through. That's a recipe for disaster because the readers will spot the lack of authenticity in the character's voice.

What has your experience been in trimming fat from your work?


Charles Gramlich said...

I actually really enjoy the editing process. I love cutting and tightening. I have to overcome my natural impulse to do so ad nausea or I'd never get anything done.

Liane Spicer said...

Thank you for the shout out! :)

My writing errs on the side of wordiness, so I tend to end up with manuscripts that need quite a bit of pruning. Like you mentioned, it's hard to let go of words, sentences and scenes that I've become attached to. My editor at Dorchester suggested I remove an entire scene from the book. I hated to see that dream sequence go, but she was right: no reveal, no advance, so out it went. Thank heavens for those publisher word limits.

G. B. Miller said...

I have no qualms in cutting out unnecessary verbiage. Starting out, I did, but it took me a couple of years to realize that one need not go overboard when describing something or having a character talk.

Father Nature's Corner

Sunny Frazier said...

I used to do the flash fiction contests. My favorite thing to do is take out every word in a sentence and still have the sentence make sense. With mysteries, you can do one word sentences or paragraphs. It ups the tension. I teach this when lecturing on short story writing.