I made some “progress” last night. One of my short stories I refer to as “Project Darkbelly” has really surpassed itself in length. I’ve yet to write the ending, and already looking at over 12,500 words was really tormenting me. Categorically, that’s well into novelette territory, which the SFWA defines as 7,500-17,499 words. I realize there’s no way I’m going to get this under 7,500 words. Just not gonna happen. But, I did burn the midnight oil and managed to shave over a thousand words. I’m roughly down to 11,500, and my goal is to somehow keep the entire story around 12,000. Since I still have scenes to write, I’ll just have to see how it goes. I’m already thinking up more concise alternatives in terms of the story’s climax.
Here’s an example of some revision from this evening.
Original introductory snip:
WAR CHANGES A MAN. Especially when the enemy’s rank and file in said war is comprised mainly of reanimated dead. People whose lives consisted of nothing more than toil and trouble, rather than rest in their graves, now made up the legions of a dark lord called the Carrion King. Tens of thousands of gruesome golems. One-time fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters.
Revised introductory snip:
WAR CHANGES A MAN. Especially when the enemy’s shock troops are a host of crazed undead. A few thousand gruesome golems who were one-time fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters, had become moaning, croaking, slack-jawed revenants of a dark master called the Carrion King.
So, by going through and making little revisions here and there, I’ve managed to whittle away over a thousand words. Some folks—writers especially—would scold me for fixating on the word count at this point, when I haven’t even finished it, and they’re probably right to do so. But it’s been nagging at me. Very few speculative fiction publishers will look at anything over 10,000 words these days, so I can’t keep chugging away on something that I know I’ll have to make such dramatic cuts on once I’m finished writing. It puts me at ease to do this now, so I can move forward feeling a little better… even if I know I still have to make more sacrifices in the near future. It’s all for the better, though. I think the “tightening” process nearly always makes a story even more dramatic and impactful.
Here’s another revision.
In spite of the past few days of running and fighting, Lasrien still cut a dashing figure. He was pale-looking and blue-lipped, but trim and graceful. His helm, tucked in the crook of one elbow, exposed a handsome face with lean masculine features and tired, red-rimmed eyes beneath close-clipped black hair. Lasrien wore his panoply of plate armor well, the breastplate fitted with a gold and silver image of the Bestia Lumina, the Illuminated Beast, a golden phoenix encircled in a halo of light. His tattered blue cloak also bore the same symbol embroidered in gold and silver thread.
It was said the Beast represented a rebirth of men’s souls. Marcus used to consider this concept a wondrous thing. But upon witnessing all that he had seen in Gurthkam, a rebirth of the soul had taken on an entirely new meaning for him—a marred and grotesque one.
He glowered at Lasrien until the knight blanched.
“Sire?” The knight looked at Marcus with a questioning glance. “Have I offended you?”
Ser Lasrien, though pale, stood yet trim and upright despite the long days of fighting and running. He had his helm tucked in the crook of one elbow, uncovering a handsome face beneath a loosened topknot of raven-black hair. He wore his panoply of plate armor well, the breastplate fitted with the gold and silver image of the Bestia Lumina, the Illuminated Beast, a golden phoenix encircled in a halo of light. His tattered blue cloak also bore the same symbol embroidered in gold and silver thread.
Marcus glowered at Lasrien until the knight blanched.
“Sire? Have I offended you?”
That’s my process. The whittling of words, accompanied by some rearranging. I cut the entire paragraph about what the Beast represented. I know what it represents, but it’s not necessary for the reader to know it in this story. If I were writing a novel, I’d likely leave it in. But I’m honing my ability to recognize the economy of words. If it doesn’t need to be in the story, take it out. This is the lesson I’m trying so very hard to teach myself.
Now my focus needs to be on getting this one finished, and then off to the discerning eyes of my beta readers and editors. Don’t worry. As soon as I’m at that point, you’ll be the first to know!