HACKING AWAY

I’ve just spent ages editing down a short story from 11,800 words to under 10,000 to fit a magazine’s submission requirement. No offence to the magazine but I hate that. Not their requirement for a top limit to a word count. After all they have to make things fit and they (presumably) know their readers’ preferences and attention span. As so often, it’s not them, it’s me.

What I hate is having to do the cutting, not the reason for having to do it. I mean, I wrote a story which I think fits the length I wrote it at, if that isn’t too weird a concept. I didn’t stick lots of filler in there to pad it out like an essay for school. I wrote it in a style with the balance of dialogue and narrative that I thought it required with the sub plots and characterisation and descriptions I thought necessary to make the tale work. For me and the reader. But I know other opinions are valid and editors have constraints.

I tend to edit and amend as I write anyway. I know I have whined about multiple edits and rewrites before – the 10th rewrite might be getting somewhere is one recommendation I remember reading in one of those ‘how to…write/get published’ self improvement things. If there is any enthusiasm or joy or original thought or descriptive talent or conversational brightness left in something after that many or more revisions I’d be amazed. So not a great fan of revisions and recurrent editing. I know it improves work up to a point and needs to be done, but in this case the 11k+ version had been pretty heavily revised to start with so going through and chopping felt like a real grind. I worried it altered the balance of foreshadowing of the central trouble and I worried the ending might be too obscure, although I didn’t want to be too obvious for the reader. Then things that had been cut had to have references later on removed and the cracks papered over. Scenes didn’t make much sense if the balance had been changed when a sentence hinting at something to come had been cut because it felt superfluous.

However at the end of it I felt a sense of achievement. And when I sat and read it as a story again, without the need to look for words and sentences and paragraphs and concepts that weren’t vital to the movement of the story so I could expunge them: I still preferred the original! But as the original wouldn’t have got a look in as it didn’t fit the requirement, I suppose I have to say the new one was better. It kept the same story, probably tightened up some dialogue and kept the pace sharper. And it hit the word limit target. And when I have read books where the author has become so famous as to add excised material back in, or where directors have extended films by half an hour, I can see the virtue of sticking to a time limit or word count.

So hacking careful editing done, it is sent and we’ll see.

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