The Long and the Short of It

I primarily think of myself as a novelist. The freelance, nonfiction stuff is an easier sell and provides some income on occasion. Markets for short fiction are shrinking by the day, but I’ve had some success there, too. I’ve had two short stories published online and a third one is scheduled to be included in the spring issue of Mysterical-e. They are fiction credits and while they don’t pay much if anything, they do get my name out there and build a readership.

However, if you think writing short fiction is easier than writing a novel, think again.

Months ago, I agreed to submit a short mystery for an anthology the Guppies are putting out.

Guppies? Great Un Published.

It’s an online chapter of Sisters in Crime and I’m proud to be a member.

Back in early January, I made a goal to write every morning before I did anything else. My first project using the early-morning words-on-page philosophy was this short story. Monday through Friday, I wrote for a half hour or more. By the end of the month, my first draft was done. Right on schedule.

The submission deadline is February 28. That gave me a couple weeks to polish it up with time to spare.

There was only one small problem. The maximum word count for this short story was to be 4,000. My first draft finished up at 9,000 words.

I told you, I’m a novelist! I like long fiction. Telling a complete story with a victim, a protagonist, and a couple of suspects along with the real killer buried in the mix takes some time. And words.

So with one month to go before deadline, I had a choice. Start over. Or cut, slash, and burn my 9,000 word not-so-short story. I chose the latter option.

I started by eliminating most of the smart-mouth comments and running commentary provided by my protagonist. I condensed pages of conversation into a summary paragraph. New word count? Seven thousand words. Great. Only 3,000 more to go. A second round of cuts ultimately only removed five hundred words. I was stuck. Maybe I should have started over. But now I only have three weeks until deadline.

Over the weekend, I pondered my story. I needed to remove all but the basic elements of the story. So this morning I cut out an entire character. Her purpose was to be the second victim. But I didn’t have time to weave together two murders with all the questions of how they were connected and why the second person had to die…

You see? Just remove the character. Remove all references to her. Remove her murder and the second round of questioning by the cop.

By the time I was done, the word count was down to 4,500. NOW we’re talking.

Cutting out 500 more words won’t be as easy as I think it will be. It seems minimal after cutting out half of the story. But the problem is there isn’t much left to cut without it sounding like “See Dick run. See Jane shoot Dick.”

For the record, I saved the original 9,000 word version. If the Guppies reject my submission, the long one is headed for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

They pay by the word.

Comments

Sara said…
Sheesh! I'm glad you saved the long version (figured you did,) but can't imagine how you whittled all that away!
Now there's a writing exercise! And sounds too much like work for me. :)
Annette said…
The term for it is "writing tight." Personally, I call it a practice in futility and torture!

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