OH I am doing it! I just finished cutting a short story to meet the 1500 word max for the 2016 Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition. I am nervous and excited all at the same time. Let me tell you cutting 500+ words from something you already felt was bare bones was tough–but I realized something in the process. Cutting can be liberating. This story had a few places that lagged. I didn’t realize it at first. Then I cut, and then sliced, and then cut again. Words that I felt were anchoring the story really were re-workable! At first the words battled for their rightful place, then as I removed them and worked on finding better more concise ways to keep the imagery and meet the word count I found the ship didn’t need as many anchors. It as a challenge, there are still some words that were sent to the story graveyard that are begging for resurrection but alas, they are doomed to rest in peace. What have I come to understand from this process?
- Concrete Details can be over used. I like to be descriptive in my writing, but I found that I may tend to over describe. This can be tedious. I suggest looking in your work for repetitive descriptions. *Finding that I like to mention that my protag likes to “shift” in chairs, from foot to foot etc. While this does SHOW nervousness, tension, boredom and a host of other feelings it can be over used.
- Cutting words can make a better story – sometimes, our words get in the way of a good story. Reader’s may need to be able to read what we see in our heads, they also can be overwhelmed with too much information. If you can convey a mental picture of your setting, then do it in a few words. Do they really need to know that the desk your protag sits at is the third one in from the main door? If that will come into play in the action portion of your writing then write it, if not leave it out!
- How to find places to cut – First look at your speech tags, are they needed? NO, cut it! easy way to get rid of unneeded words. Next, look at the descriptions, have you used two words that essentially mean the same thing? An antag that is vicious and cruel can be described once as vicious and later as cruel– have you made her both in one sentence? Yes? cut one of them. Also look for words that steal space: very, really, just and the ever overused “so” well, you get the idea. Finally if you have dialogue it is a fast place to find unneeded words- often we can say what we mean in less words but don’t! Give it a try not only in your story but the real world too!
- It is scary to decide to enter a contest and have the possibility of rejection. The good thing about rejection is it is only one more knocked on door to success. Each time you put yourself out there you are one step closer to a “yes”.
This concludes my thoughts on the 2016 Short Story Contest for Writer’s Digest, now I need to go proof-read and submit.
You have until January 15th to enter the contest. I look forward to the competition. Check it out here. Writer’s Digest Short Story Contest.