Neuter Your Story

Hello all – today’s post is late because it was labor day. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway I have another writing exercise for you born out of a mistake I made. There was a contest on a website that included writing. I thought about just drawing something because I’m a big scardy-cat when it comes to entering a writing contest (I’ve entered scores of art contests so it doesn’t even bother me when I don’t win now, I just depend on the fact that I won’t and am pleasantly surprised when I somehow get 3rd place) but on recognizing that I’m a big scardy-cat, I decided it was time to push myself to do something scary with writing. I mean if I can’t even enter a stupid contest with a stupid story I whipped up for it, how can I ever get myself to query? (Because they’re somehow totally different in my head, that’s how.)

So I look at the story requirements. They’re pretty open – 5,000 words on the theme of an  adventure set in the website’s world. I come up with the idea to write a story about kids playing a pretend adventure in the park and become attached to it, especially as it’s adorable and fun to write slipping in and out of reality fluidly, with gems like a character about to “fall off a cliff” and one of the others yells they’ll save her, pause, realize she never came up with a character name, wait for her to calmly make one up, and then proceed to “save” her. It was cute and fun to write and I was so proud of myself when I managed to stay well below the 5k word limit. I was only like 3.8k or something.

I finish, I send it to Tyler and to my mom to proofread, they both like it and give me some suggestions, I implement what I wanna, and go to submit it…

only to realize that it’s a 5,000 CHARACTER limit, not word.

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Really, I should have realized that for this circumstance, 5k words would have been insanely high. I even had thought, “Wow, 5k is generous…” on seeing the limit.

It’s only a few days before the deadline. I mean granted it’d only been like two weeks when they announced the contest but still. I panic. Should I just come up with a new story? But I feel less than confident to come up with an idea I liked as much, and writing the original short story had already been like pulling teeth for me. No. I’m in love with this cute kid idea.

So I abridge it. I have to axe so many of my favorite parts. I have to axe a whole character, the one who pauses the game of make-believe to make up a name, and also retcons things about her character when they become inconvenient. I have to axe the zombie kid literally losing her arm when she pretends it was bitten off by a monster (Yes, I don’t like zombies, but they’re a legit race in the website’s world, and I was trying to be diverse. Also they’re pretty different from “undead” the way I hate them) and I have to cut out half the locations they visit. No matter how hard I try to re-write it, the whole story is clipped. It would probably be anyway, even if I wrote a different story. It’s insanely difficult for me to write something THAT short when I’ve just figured out short stories.

You know what the real kicker is? All the submissions for all the categories come in and writing has like fifty million submissions and art had like, I don’t know, two dozen or something. And I DID have a pretty cool art idea that I’m fairly certain I could have pulled off.

Anyway I spent a couple days angsting about having to neuter my story and then I let it go. Participating had been an exercise in forcing me out of my comfort zone and practicing writing something short; I hadn’t expected to win, even if I really hoped I might. But it wound up being something more than those two things.

I had to do an exercise in cutting straight to the marrow of the story. Through the meat and fat and straight to the bone and then past that too. I had to find the barest functional elements of what I wanted to tell. I had to kill so, so many darlings. I thought I’d mostly mastered killing my darlings but this was difficult for me, so apparently, there are still other kinds of darlings with which I struggle.

I can honestly say I think the first story I wrote was better. I mean, the whole point of my meat analogy is that the meat is the part you want to keep. When you have a skeleton, you have to put some meat on it. Skeleton’s just an outline. (Then what’s the marrow? errr…)

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But it did get me to see what parts of the story I really cared about, what characters were really necessary. The work was reminiscent of my long labors on procuring the perfect elevator pitch for my WIP. How do you boil a whole book down into a sentence or two?

I also struggle with my novels with a scene that drags. There are many reasons a scene will drag – in my case, it’s often just because I’m long-winded and/or became bored writing the scene but wasn’t sure how to stop writing it. An exercise in neutering it would help me, I think, either just fix it in the first place or figure out what the actually important parts are and just write those.

I suppose proper outlining beforehand would work just as well if not better for saving time. But some of us suck at that, or can’t figure out how to go from a careful outline to the concise, efficient version of the scene or chapter. And for said person (like me), this allows me to do it backwards and hopefully the anatomy lesson (I should let this metaphor die but it’s too late now) will help me just outline better next time.

If nothing else, I think practice in writing a scene and then writing a scene more concisely is a worthwhile practice.

P.S. Don’t worry too much about me seeing as how Tyler’s been writing a lot of guest posts lately – it just means I’m working on my WIP and stupid things like these.

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About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
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