31 March 2007

chainsaws and pruners

Over on Miss Snark, there's been a dialogue about trimming word count. Most novels and many short stories benefit from a purposeful meat cleaving. A lot of the short stories I read for the zine are flat-out too long. Think of it this way: the longer you take to say it, the longer you have to keep my interest. I'd say the single most important edit is trimming that story down until it's as sleek as an eel.

Something like two adverbs would be appropriate in your average short story. Sometimes they help with brevity, oftentimes they just look lazy. But, consider them placeholders for a decent verb or improved dialogue. Do an -ly search and kill them dead. Search "that". Pick one perfect adjective for your description. If your protag or antag is an ordinary human, most of the time I don't need to know what he looks like. And a word to the wise: David's latest sticking point is eye color. He makes a good point. Describe the single most important feature of your character. It's usually not what he looks like. Try to write without using "emotion" words. Instead, spend your word count on internal dialogue or physical reaction. Finally, read your story on paper. Do you say the same thing twice in two different ways?

I often draft a story with a word limit in mind. Think of it as going to a party and only filling your plate once.


David E. Hughes said...

Giving away my secrets now, Bets? Okay, "eye" confess, if the first thing learn about a character's physical apperance is his/her eye color, I start to loose interest. Maybe I'll get over it soon, but you never know ...

Rob Windstrel Watson said...

For me, movement and smell are the keys.

'She lunged forward, eyes wide' asks questions immediately about why, purpose and her inner tension.

Smell and sound precipitates action.

'The acrid smell of burned flesh ...'

Action moves story along in an environment populated by smells and sounds.

Smells and sounds stimulates characters reaction.

In many ways, sight is what the reader provides from their own personal library. We just have to tap into it.


(Rob Hopcott - online author and big on smelliness)

Betsy Dornbusch said...

Smell is an oft-disregarded sense in stories. It's too bad, really, cuz it's fun to play with.