I hope Spring has found you in good spirits, all motivated by the arrival (or anticipated arrival) of warm weather, sunshine, and the end of snow. Personally, I’m loving it. After a second long, cold winter in a row, it’s nice to put away the long johns, stop worrying about frozen pipes, and not feel like I’m going to freeze solid while doing farm chores. It’s not just me, either – the farm critters are enjoying the milder climes too. Chickens are laying more, and the lambs can come out of the barn and bounce around the bale feeder while the ewes eat.
On the creative front, I’ve spent most of the past few weeks editing rather than writing. It’s a part of the over all story-crafting process that doesn’t get as much attention as writing. Less glamorous. If you see a writer on a big screen, he or she is staring at a blank screen, willing words to emerge. He or she is most certainly not staring at a full screen of text, contemplating what to delete. Writing is fun, writing creates, writing brings forth. Editing is deletion or tedium; “killing your darlings” as I think Stephen King put it.
But I’m not good enough to write perfect stories on the first take, so I have to edit.
Most of the recent work went into a version of One Last Dance. A market had appeared, but had a hard cap of 5,000 words. The story had 6,000. Thematically, the market was a good enough fit that I thought it was worth seeing if I could take out 17% of the story’s words without losing anything in the story.
My first pass-through got me half way there. There were a lot of cases where I could replace passive verbs with active verbs (“had been ___” to “___ed”) or merge actions and dialogue tags (“…He said. He stood.” to “…He said, standing”). It was no more than one or two words at a time but it added up. I cut out some “Um” and “Er” filler that served to demonstrate hesitation on a speaker’s part but otherwise just inflated word count. Occasionally, a line of redundant description or dialogue would get the axe as well.
Subsequent pass-throughs were more difficult once I’d edited the low-hanging fruit. A paragraph describing the protagonist’s armor was much condensed. A conversation got trimmed. In some cases I was okay with these deletions, but others had little bits I liked, so whacking them wasn’t easy. Hence Stephen King’s quote from earlier.
By the end of it all, though, I’d shaved the story down to 4,995 words and felt that little of actual value had been lost. Certainly the core story wasn’t changed. I sent it in to the market almost two months ago, but their deadline isn’t until the end of April. It’ll be another long wait.
Meanwhile, an apocalypse-themed antho opened up, so I took another pass through Sponges. I’d already edited the crap out of that a few times, so there was little language-wise to adjust. The big thing this time was that I’d written the first draft around 2011, setting it in the near-future with a scene mentioning NATO in Afghanistan. But with NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan now having ended as of last year, the scene now served to explicitly place the story in the past. That didn’t make a lot of sense because I think we’d all agree there was not sponge-related apocalypse in our recent past. Yes?
I contemplated updating the scene to ISIL and Syria, but that again seemed to date things too specifically. In the end, I adjusted it to be Pakistan fighting AQ in northern Pakistan, as this seems to be an open-ended conflict.
I fired Sponges in to its target market in late March, so along with One Last Dance and Black Sheep, I’ve got three stories out there right now.
What’s new in your neck of the woods?