Writing–Taking Out

Last week I wrote about adding in to make a word count; this week I’m going to talk about taking out.

This is something I don’t have to do very often. Like I said before, I’m very bare bones. I usually fall below word count maximums.

Unless it’s flash fiction.

I typically don’t set out to write flash fiction, but my shorter short stories sometimes put me in that ballpark. And if I can find a place that suits the story, I’ll look to start cutting to make the word count.

Since flash fiction doesn’t offer much in the way of extra words and since my story is pretty short to begin with, I’m not usually cutting huge chunks of story; it’s typically just a couple of hundred words. Which doesn’t sound too difficult, but when what you’ve got is what you NEED to tell a story and you can’t lose much of anything or risk losing the integrity of the story, it’s pretty hard.

That’s when creativity and word choice become critical.

Granted, word choice is always important, but it’s a true test when cutting a story that really can’t afford much cutting. I have to say even more with one word because that’s all I’ve got.

This cutting also forces me to get creative with my sentence structure. No time for detours, I have to get right to the point. I have to state the idea as quickly and succinctly as possible without compromising grammar (too much), flow, style, readability, or enjoyment.

I’ve done this to a few stories, however so far the success is only measure by my actually getting it done to my own satisfaction. I’ve yet to get any flash fiction accepted for publication. Not for lack of trying, though.

And it’s nice to know that I have the cutting tools I need to make my stories better.

Stories By The Numbers

 -Submitted: 2
-Ready: 8
-Rejected: 1 (“Such a Pretty Face” once again finds no love)

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Writing–Adding In

I was initially going to include “taking out” as well, since they seem to be two sides of the same coin with the same basic goals (meeting a word count and improving the story). But in the end I feel like they deserve separate posts.

And it guarantees that I have soemthing to write about next week.

I know the general rule is that it’s better to take out than put in. Most writers by nature seem to put a lot more into a story, particularly in a first draft, than what the story really needs and the extraneous material is later cut. I’m the opposite in the sense that my stories are usually pretty bare bones, particularly my short stories.

So when I come across an anthology or magazine that I thin kmight be a good fit for one of my stories and then I see that the minimum word count exceeds the word count of my story, I end up asking myself whether or not it’s worth it to try to expand the story to make the count.

Obviously, it ends up depending on the story.

A few stories I’ve considered expanding are definite no-go’s. Theyr’e done. There’s nothing more to add. Anything I put in is just going to drag the story down, water it down and weaken it. Definitely not what I want.

However, because I cut to the quick so much, I have found a couple of stories that can benefit from embellishment.

I added about 1,800 words of backstory to “Land of the Voting Dead” to meet the minimum word count for an anthology that looked to be a perfect fit. It was a bit of story that I had considered only in passing while creating the character of Miriam Showalter. I was pleased to discover that the addition worked; the added backstory gave the piece more depth.

And I guess I wasn’t the only one who liked it, since it got accepted for the anthology.

I”m currently in teh process of doing the same thing to “Spillway”. I need to add about 1,800 words in order to make the word count minimum for an anthology. There’s room in the story for some embellishment that I think will end up enhancing the piece. I think it will end up being better for it.

And if I’m lucky, the anthology editors will like it, too.

Stories By The Numbers

-Submitted: 3
-Ready: 7
-Accepted/Rejected: 0

Writing–June Projects

May was terrible. I got nowhere fast and I feel like I’m just digging myself into a deeper hole that I won’t be able to get out of one day. My priorities are shot. I need a do over.

But enough writer’s doubt and whining. I’ve got June and if I can escape the computer problems that have plagued me the past two years, here is what I’d like to do:

-Keep revising The World (Saving) Series. I have got to gain some ground on it.

-Write/revise/post another Outskirts story.

That’s it. I’m pushing everything else off. Just those two things. I have got to find some focus and I’m taking this month to do it. I’ve either got to recommit myself or I’ve got to resign myself to the day job.

Choice needs to be made.

I’d better choose wisely.

Stories By The Numbers

-Submitted: 3 (Sent out “Customer Service”)
-Ready: 7
-Accepted/Rejected: 0

Writing–The Devil’s in the Details

I consider descriptions to be one of my biggest writing weaknesses. It’s not that I don’t like writing descriptions or that I struggle with it. It’s just that I don’t do it.

First drafts are all about getting the story down for me. The main focus is character, action, and dialogue. Sometimes I’ll throw in a detail or two in there if it comes to me or if I think it’s important, but for the most part, aside from setting and seeing, not much gets put in. Which is fine. It’s a first draft. It’s not supposed to be perfect.

The problem is that when I do revise the story, the details don’t always get added in.

That’s the part I struggle with.

Soemties I forget to add in the details because I know what it looks like, I know what’s going on, I know the scene, but I forget that people can’t see my mind. I have to translate it to the page. It’s pretty basic, but I still miss it every once in awhile. It takes someone else pointing out the vague description that makes me realize that my brain has been filling in the details for me, but I haven’t been putting them on the paper.

There is also, of course, my tunnel vision problem. I sometimes forget that I have other senses that can be used. Sight and sound are usually givens. Touch gets used some, too. Smell and taste are often forgotten. Sure, they’re not always appropriate to include in every story, but sometimes they mention of a smell or a taste can really enhance the setting or the scene.

The stories I’m most pleased with are the ones that I’ve used sensory detail well in. To date my favorite line comes from “Such a Pretty Face” about the “scent of stale onions hanging in the wet air”. It’s subtle, a throw away really, but it adds so much to the story and the scene. It’s my go-to line when I need to remind myself of the need to pay attention to detail.

The details make all the difference.

Stories By The Numbers

Submitted: 2
Ready: 8
Accepted/Rejected: 0

Writing–May Projects

April was neither a rousing success or a crashing failure. Adequate would be the best word for it. But getting the job done puts me in a good position for May.

Of course the big project continues. I only got one chapter revised on The World (Saving) Series last month so I have some serious ground I’d like to make up. I’m shooting for two, maybe three. Minimum.

I’ve got two short stories I need to review. “Another Deadly Weapon” and “Soul Sister” are on the agenda.

A new Outskirts story will be going up this Saturday (get “Wait ‘Til Next Year” read while you still can). I’ve got two that need to be revised and one of them will be going up.

It doesn’t sound like a lot of work, but with falling behind on the novel revisions, it will be some serious work to not only catch up, but also get ahead. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been slacking on it and I need to change my ways. I need to rededicate myself to this project if only to say that I got through the first round of revisions.

Keep plugging away.

Stories By The Numbers

Submitted: 1 (“Such a Pretty Face” is still out)
Ready: 8
Accepted/Rejected: 0

Writer’s Doubt

There are times when I don’t feel good enough. I look at what I’m working on and think it’s garbage and I don’t know how to fix it. I have no clue what I’m doing. Nobody is going to want to read this story. Everyone else is doing so much better than I am. Why do I keep bothering with this? I’m no good. I’m not a writer.

Ah, writer’s doubt. I know that feeling so well. It hits me at least once a month, sometimes just momentarily, sometimes it lingers for days. It could be a devestating, debilitating thing if I weren’t so stupidly stubborn and unable to leave things unfinished that I can’t walk away. Which works out in my favor, of course, as persistence is a big part of success as a writer.

But there are times when I’m not feeling very successful. I’m not feeling inspired. I’m not even feeling coherent. In those times of struggle, and like I said, they happen more often than I’d like, that doubt creeps up into the back of my mind like a spider looking for a soft spot to lay her eggs. Those are the times that I start comparing myself to other writers. I look at who’s getting published, what they’re getting published, and then I look at my little list of credits and wonder what the hell I’m doing.

Then I look at what I’m writing and wonder the same damn thing.

It’s a frustrating part of the writing game. I try not to let it get to me. I remind myself about the persistence factor. I remind myself to be patient. I remind myself that not every story I’ve ever written is crap and there is nothing wrong with the places that have published my work. They have good taste.

(Does anyone have that problem? Not only do you doubt yourself, but you doubt anyone on your side, too? I wouldn’t be surpised if I’m the only one and I hope I don’t offend anyone with my issues.)

I have no fool-proof method to combat it. I just keep plugging away and try to ignore that voice in my head that says I suck. I admit that some days the doubt manages to slow me down. It roughs me up. It makes me question my commitment to this writing life.

And that’s where the doubt stops. I don’t want to be doing anything else. I want to be writing something. Short stories, novels, blog posts, personal essays, non-fiction, articles, whatever. I want to be writing. I would be writing even if I wasn’t getting published.

Knowing that, recognizing it, really helps me get back on the mule and keep going.

And sometimes, if I’m lucky, the mule kicks the doubt for good measure.

Stories By The Numbers

Submitted: 1 (only “Such a Pretty Face” is still out)
Ready: 8
Accepted: 1! “Playing Chicken” will be published in the Library of Horror anthology Made You Flinch–Again!

Writing–The Stillness of Writing

Just because I’m looking out the window doesn’t mean I’m not working.

Okay, maybe at the day job it means I’m not working on day job stuff, but it doesn’t mean I’m not working on writing stuff.

It hasn’t been easy for me to be taken seriously as a writer to begin with. It’s that not bringing in a regular paycheck thing that throws people off. There’s this idea that, paid or not, writing isn’t work. And that idea gets a boost when people see you sitting there doing “nothing”.

Well, I’m here to tell you that most of the time I’m not doing nothing. More than likely, I”m thinking about something.

That game of Bejeweled Blitz could be a break between writing jags. Ditto with checking email or checking Twitter. I’m a big fan of writing sprints, ten minutes writing, ten minutes not, particularly when I’m working on longer projects and particularly when I’m struggling. And if I am sprinting, then those ten minutes I’m not writing aren’t going to waste. I may look like I’m doing nothing, but in reality, I’m plotting what I’m going to write for the next ten minutes.

A lot of plotting and idea developing are done while doing “nothing”. Or while doing the mundane. I’ve done a lot of idea development while playing mindless games of Spider Solitaire and Free Cell or while cooking dinner and doing the laundry. Some great ideas have come to me while I was just staring out the window.

Hell, that’s how I got the idea for this blog post.

My point is that appearances can be decieving and writing is more than just typing. Writing is actually work. It’s an involved process. Maybe it doesn’t make me break a sweat, but it does involve some serious effort. It can be frustrating. The idea doesn’t jump to the page from the first second it appears in my brain and it doesn’t make it onto the paper perfectly the first time. Only once have I had an idea hit the paper so smoothly that it only needed a little revision, but the idea still needed a few days to percolate before I could get down the first word.

Believe me. I’m working a lot, even if it doesn’t look that way.

Okay, maybe not as much at the day job.

Stories By The Numbers

Submitted: 2 (“Playing Chicken” and “Such a Pretty Face”)
Ready: 8 (“Customer Service”, “Game Night”, “An Active Sleeper”, and “At 3:36” join “Husband and Wife”, “Elevator”, “Bigger Than a Squirrel”, and “Erin Go Bragh”)
Accepted/Rejected: 0