So I’m a bit late on this. It’s actually been sitting in my Drafts for several days, but haven’t had the time, or sometimes the energy, to post it. Not in a bad way – tho my continued limited mobility as I wait for my feet to heal continues to bum me out – but just in the way of, whenever I have time to stop I don’t feel like using the brainpower it would take to finish this up and post it.
So. Tonight is a “me” night, when I have no boys to think about, and did not schedule anything people-oriented – yay.
This round seemed to feel a lot less stressful than the first three. The word count was higher, so there’s that, but not by so much that it feels like it should have made a huge difference – though I did get myself in a bit of a pickle initially, because I had it in my head that I had 300 words, not 250 (or was it 225? I can’t recall just now.) But what that meant was that when I did my first “throw it all on paper” draft, I allowed myself a mental 400 words, which, because I don’t count my words until I’m finished, ended up being 456. With some ruthless pruning, I got it down to the maximum 300 – only to discover that I was still 50 words over! That was a rough moment. I write a certain way if I have a certain number of words – a 2,000 word story is going to be dramatically different than a 4,000 word story, for instance, and not just in the number of words, but often in its style, in how events unfold, even, at times, changing a character’s personality or impact in a story. So at that point I sat back and evaluated the story I had told – already different in (what I felt) were some significant ways than the story I had wanted to tell. Could I keep the integrity of the story intact with 50 words fewer? Did I want to?
It takes me a few days to get down to the actual writing of a story. I bounce the concept around in my head, see if anything sticks. Then I hem and haw and procrastinate, usually doing chores around the house, walking my neighborhood aimlessly, or gardening. Sometimes I’ll color or work on a puzzle or crochet while watching mindless TV. I always castigate myself for this bit of procrastination, but I’ve come to accept that this is really part of the creative process for me (as much, apparently, as the self-flagellation for not having a better, more disciplined, method.
Finally, usually at about 10 p.m. of the night that the procrastination started, I climb into bed with my laptop and actually start writing. I’ve come to see the day-long period prior to actually writing as “labor” and the writing as the “birth” of the story. Sometimes that baby slips out with hardly a push, sometimes it comes “prematurely” (anytime before I’ve finished my ruminations), sometimes it’s a breech birth and takes an enormous amount of effort and pushing (and maybe some forceps, or even a C-section). And sometimes the baby’s so ugly I gotta start over. This process is true even of these little stories in the Smut Marathon.
For the next few days after that I will circle the story mentally. Re-read it. Massage it. Revise, edit, read it aloud. Sometimes a story can change drastically at this point. Sometimes I have to start again. Then, once I have a story that I know is within rock-throwing distance of the word count, I get out my pruning shears. And I prune ruthlessly. This last time, with the story I ended up with, I actually pruned it back too far, and had some free space to fill. I also let myself play with rearranging the sequence of events and having it play out differently than I had originally intended. Oddly enough, I keep enjoying the “pruning” part of these challenges. I enjoy the feeling of not just writing a story, but of “sculpting” it – and being ruthless with the sculpting knife is part of that.
So that’s how I ended up with “The Interview.” You can read it here (it’s #47.) It didn’t too badly with the judging, placing 11 out of the 55 in the public vote, 5th in the juried vote, and 6th overall. So I am holding my own, staying in the top 10, and have landed in 3rd place in the Marathon overall. I’m pretty satisfied.
If you’re interested, there are a number of good articles online about revising and editing your writing. I’ve used many of the techniques discussed within them.
Manuscript Editing: How to Cut Words When Your Novel’s Too Long – This one obviously pertains to editing novel-length fiction, but a lot of the tips apply just as well to short fiction revision. In fact, I found the following particularly pursuant:
Step Two: Decide Where it Needs the Cutting
You can trim most manuscripts overall, but some will be heavy in one area and need specific trimming. Looking at the novel’s structure is an easy way to determine where the extra words lie.
Using the basic three-act structure, write down the word count of each act. (Feel free to use whatever structure you prefer and just adjust your percentages to fit your structure.)
Act one is the first 25% of the manuscript, the second 25% fills the ramp up to the midpoint in act two. The third 25% is the ramp down in act two from the midpoint, and the final 25% is in act three. So, if your manuscript is 100,000 words, you’d have four chunks of 25,000 words in each. At the end of each act, you’d have a major plot turning point.
Remember—these guidelines aren’t exact, but if (using the above example) you discover the first act is 35,000 words, but the rest fits your target word counts, there’s a good chance the beginning is too long. Then you should cut your extra words from there.
A 10% variance in section size is fairly normal, but anything beyond that needs a closer look. If you decide an act is working even though it’s longer, that’s okay. The goal is to use structure to diagnose and identify potential trouble areas, not force your manuscript to fit a particular template.
In spite of the differences between our short fiction for the Smut Marathon and longer fiction – whether still in the “short story” range, or in a longer piece – this is a handy method to not only start the revision process, but also to evaluate your story. The stories I found most satisfying this round (and indeed all) were those that actually told a story, even within the word restrictions: they were not simply a sex scene or a snippet of conversation. Of course we can’t go into all the character- and world-building that we can in a longer piece, but – for me as a reader at least – those elements of the three act story arc: Act One (set up), Act Two (confrontation), and Act Three (resolution), are essential, even if in an abbreviated form.
Unfortunately, with all the business of my life, I didn’t manage to keep notes on the stories for feedback like I usually do. I promise to try harder this next round, because I know how important and appreciated feedback is – good and bad.
My deep gratitude to all the readers, critiquers and writers that expended so much time and energy on this past round – and congratulations to all who have come this far!