15 May 2007

Short Stories, Chainsaws, and Rewrites

I've been having an interesting time with short stories. One was a fantasy I labored over for months, tweaking here and there, pulling the old poetry 'put a comma in here, take a word out there' game. I submitted it to an anthology. The editor asked for another look if I would rewrite the ending. I rewrote the ending and liked how it came out, but it still didn't quite fit what he had in mind for the anthology. Too philosophical. Fair enough. I think it has potential, after a cooling off period, I find places I can snip and retool. It weighs in a tad over 5000 words.

After pondering the whole thing, and with some lovely personal advice from the editor, I am going to target it to another market. After studying that market, I think I need to expand the story in two places, not cut. The other market's word count is not as stringent, so I'll have more room to play. My instinct on the initial reject was to take a chainsaw to the story and lop off limbs. I still plan to tighten in places, but looking for spots to slip in description is harder than I thought. I resorted to writing my theme and goal on a sticky note and posting it on my comp, so when I rewrite I see it. Is what I'm inserting adding to the theme? All part of my goal to write a little smarter, and thereby faster, I hope. The procrastination gnome is insidious and must be defeated.

I set the 5000 word story aside, then got an idea for another short story covering the same theme. I wrote it in a weekend and submitted it. I am not a particularly fast writer, not usually, but all the fine tuning on the previous story got my brain in the proper mode to write right. So to speak. I had a beginning, middle, end, and it could be done under 3000 words. I did it in under 2500 words. Still having a hard time breaking that 2000 word mark. I like setup that doesn't feel abrupt and leisurely transitions. I hate stories where I get whiplash from the scene changes. After playing around with pruning words, I see more clearly how to cut extraneous stuff and have a coherent story. I'm learning.

This story is almost there. I'm doing a rewrite on a small area. This editor went above and beyond a mere rejection, he explained what didn't work and why, and is willing to look at a rewrite because everything else flows for him. He pinpointed the problem in a sentence. The spot that he disliked was a place I wasn't happy about. Now I know why. It didn't work. It was lazy writing in an otherwise strong piece. Each time I fix errors like this, hopefully the process sticks in my brain, and I learn to write faster and smarter. And quit thinking so hard about it. It ain't rocket science. At least not this week.


Gabriele Campbell said...

I never get short story plot bunnies these days. No, it's always big, sprawling epic messes that take years to write. :)

Constance Brewer said...

Oh, I have the epic messes too, but I'm forcing myself to tackle short stories. I'm sadistic that way. :) Between the novel, short stories and poems, I have no excuse for writer's block. There's always something to work on. That's why they're plot gerbils. They get on the wheel and run and run...