Friday, September 22, 2017

Editing, Editing

I’ve been in full contest mode for the past few weeks. First was the Ghost Tales Contest sponsored as a fundraiser for the Colonel Davenport House. For that, I wrote up a story, from a young adult point of view, about a family ghost. I spent 3 days going over and over it: refining; switching words, and sentences, around; basically, trying to make the most of my 1,000-word allotment. I got it done with 913 words, and submitted early. I had other things to do.

One those “other” things turned out to be the River City Reader Short Fiction Contest. This one was more difficult. Made so because a prompt had to be incorporated into the story. This year’s selections were all quotes from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. There was a nice variety of sage and witty words from the master. None of which spoke to me. Until, that is, my fourth reading of the list. Something clicked and one of the quotes seemed perfect for a piece I’d already written for a book club meeting. The story was both real and a satire for an author whose work I really enjoyed. The trouble was my story clocked in at 978 words and I would only be allowed 300 words for my entry.


It seemed like an impossible task. There was only to do: try and see what I could come up with.

Reading the story again, I copied and pasted key paragraphs and dialog into a new document. 700 words.

I began cutting into the paragraphs and eliminating whole sentences wherever I could. The ones not directly involving the true essence of the story arc. Cute stuff. 600 words.

More cutting of cute stuff. Miscellaneous funny business. Nonsense dialog. (You’d have to know something of Jenny Lawson’s books & blog.) 500 words.

Now, came the serious rearranging of the remaining elements into a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. 400 words.

So close to the goal of 300 words. It was time to get RUTHLESS.

A last-ditch, late-night push. 290 words. That was WITH the quote. (The quote wouldn’t be counted, but we were encouraged to be conservative.)

However, my story left a bit to be desired when I read it again the next morning. Time for the extra dose of fine tuning: choosing the exact words to use, pruning the wrong words here and there, and shifting things around so they made the most sense for the plot. Even coming up with a better ending. Everything was done as a balancing act. If I added something here, something there had to be shortened. 290 words.

After another day of effort, and I still had 290 words with a coherent story that was true to the original theme and mood.

With the approval from my favorite Beta reader, I submitted the story early. (Contest deadline: 5 pm CDT Oct 10)

Subtracting the 17 words of the quote, that wouldn’t be counted, that gave me a final total count of 273 words out of the starting 978. I had achieved a 72-percent word reduction with my editing binge. I considered having cocktails for lunch.

For more information about the River City Short Fiction Contest:

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