In Christina Katz’s weekly e-zine, she continues her discussion on the 52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers.
This week’s quality is experience.
Experience is an action word.
It’s a noun, yes. But, the word – and the meaning behind it – comes alive with action.
Last week, I experimented with a short story rewrite, deciding it not only needed a good trim but a rigorous reduction in extraneous verbiage.
I’ve rewritten passages before and added words here and there, but I’ve never attacked a whole story with the goal of cutting the word count in half. I needed help, so I turned to other writers. I posed a question here, and several people commented with great suggestions.
Over a course of several days, and several draft print-outs, I attempted to trim a 3500+ word story to just under 1200 words. Each time I considered a strikethrough, I leaned on the experience and words of those writers:
- Cut the facts, keep the emotion.
- Get rid of the passages that are better expressed elsewhere in the story.
- Cut the beginning and introduce the conflict in the first sentence.
- Take off the ending.
- Follow your intuition.
The initial cuts were easy. I crossed out the ending without a problem, and I condensed the beginning two paragraphs into one concise sentence. My pen danced through unnecessary adjectives and random details. But after the third pass through the story, I still had well over 200 words left to cut.
Talk about killing your darlings…It pained me to think of losing even one more word, let alone a few hundred. Then, I read Jordan Rosenfeld’s recent post, at Make a Scene, about deep-cut revising, and trusted her when she said weeks later I wouldn’t even notice what I bumped from the story.
So, I cut whole scenes, gave one character the boot, and said farewell to descriptions that no reader would love as much as I loved them.
As I got closer to 1200 words, the skeleton of a story that remained read so choppy that I wondered if I cut too much. But, I weaved the story back together with careful precision – into a sensible plot – and ended just under the 1200 bar. I then sent the “new” story off to a few writing friends to see if it held together well. Comments were positive, and I was able to work in a few more suggested changes while staying under my word limit.
The experience I gained through this experiment was invaluable. I learned several things about my writing – I write on and on sometimes and plenty of what I say can be cut without losing the premise of a story.
This rewrite experiment also taught me that, while writing is a solitary act, I rarely do it alone. I ask around when I’m not sure how to begin a story or edit a story or end a story. And in listening to other writers’ suggestions – and their experience – I find the courage to attempt new writing challenges myself.
Then, I celebrate my success when the story I just slashed still reads like a story and not like a ticker tape.