The worst part about word limits is cutting back.
Earlier I made a post about a Writing contest based on the theme ‘redemption,’ hosted by Legendfire.com, a community-based writing website. After some initial worry, I was able to come up with an idea I thought would be of the right size. As someone who writes primarily novel-length stories, the word limit of 3500 was a real (but welcome) challenge. Fortunately, I made it at 3494 words, just in time. Though I can’t give out any specific detail until after the winners are revealed (January 14th) , I can say I’m pleased with how the piece turned out – given time and word constraints, especially with the stress of the holiday season. It’s not the best I’ve ever written, but it’s not the worst.
But it took some effort to get it to the place it is. I should have seen the trouble coming when my plot outline was 1700 words. By the time I had finished my first draft, the whole thing was 5200 words. That’s more than a little over, and especially troubling considering my habit of forgetting or skipping parts in the first draft. I had to cut a lot from the story, including some semi-important scenes in the middle. In my previous post, I spoke of the importance of character when dealing with a theme like redemption, so it’s unfortunate that characterizing scenes had to be cut. The Main character is far from as fleshed out as I wish they were, but I think it’s enough to carry the story. The bigger problem comes from the lack of development of the side character’s who seem to pop into the story at the end, out of the blue. I initially had some introduction scenes where they appeared before they became really important, turning them into Chekov’s gunmen, but that had to be cut entirely. That’s what I get for using a three act structure in a one-act play. The plot made it though alive, even if there is a noticeable scar across the middle. (Perhaps I can only see it because I know it is there?)
Another sacrifice I had to make was the description and detail. You see, I like detail. Now, I’m not talking about purple prose or describing everything in such excruciating detail it becomes tedious, but I like sprinkling detail around to add flavor. Occasionally, I’ll even stop to describe something important to the plot in a few hundred words, especially if it’s awesome. I had to cut a lot of that flavor out, something that really bothered me. It leads to a very snappy writing style I’m not sure I like, especially near the end. It’s almost possible to see the point where I realize I’m running out of words and start to cut down heavily. That’s probably not a good thing, but maybe – like above – it’s something I can only see because I know it’s there. Overall, it’s very quick and skeletal. Don’t get me wrong, I like a fast pace, especially in combat, but I like description too. I’ve struck an odd balance in my writing style, but I had to cut it away for this.
I might play around with this new style in the future, as I think I could learn a little from it. (And isn’t that the best prize I could possibly get from a contest?)
One healthy lesson is about transition sentences between actions. Sometimes, I know where my character is and what I want them to do, but don’t know what to put in between. It always felt weird to have ‘nothing’ in between, but writing with the limit forced me too and, after re-reading the results, I can honestly say it works a little better at many points. I know I’m being vague. I’ll post the story here once the contest has been decided, with some short pieces of analysis so you can see what I was trying to do at certain parts, and how I was doing it. I may even put some of the deleted scenes back, but I want to keep the work true to its purpose – and that was to be short.
Where ever you are in the world, happy New Year and good luck with those resolutions. My biggest resolution is to stay on track and see Treasonists published, so there’s still more on that to come!