I find that each new writing project is a challenge, as I try to figure out again the process of creating a story.
Back at the end of April I set out to write a short story in one of my preexisting story worlds. I had no characters, no plot, no theme. So I did brainstorming sessions, and I tried writing bits of story just to see what might be there. Eventually I had a complete draft. I’m never quite sure how this happens, and it doesn’t always happen, but it did this time. 9900 words. Much longer than I’d hoped, but it was the first story I’d managed to finish this year, so that was something.
I sent it off for critique, got comments back that were mostly minor and full of encouragement — and then I didn’t look at the thing for a month because… I don’t know why.
When I finally started working on it again, things went in an unexpected direction. My tendency is to underwrite first drafts, so second drafts are always longer, but this story was the opposite. One comment from the beta reader was that the opening pages could be shortened, so that’s where I started and, painlessly, just by striking out excess wordage — an excess that had become suddenly obvious — the story was 500 words shorter. So I went through the entire manuscript and did a similar prune, striking out phrases and sentences. This took it down to around 9200 words.
Next I started looking for scenes to cut. Right away I found one that was clearly unnecessary. It involved a subplot/problem that contributed to a character’s difficulties without contributing in a meaningful way to the climax of the story. So I reduced it to a sentence and got rid of a few hundred words.
I found two or three places with repeated information and consolidated those.
I found a short scene that existed just so I could convey one piece of information. That information could be easily communicated in one sentence of dialog in a different scene, so that’s what I did.
I trimmed and trimmed and trimmed, one or two words at a time, and the story didn’t suffer for it. It got better. And of course not everything involved cutting words. I added them as needed to clarify character and motives, but the net word count kept dropping.
The last one hundred words were really hard, but I finally found a two-sentence paragraph that had been made irrelevant by my revisions. When that was gone, I only needed to get rid of a few more words, and then I was done. I’d brought the story down to my goal of 8000 words.
This is the first time I can remember cutting a story this hard, which just goes to show that every story is different. I’ve got at least three more that I want to write this year, along with finishing the novel. I have no idea how I’ll manage any of it, but that’s always the case.
I guess I’ll know when I get there.