A quick post this time. As I mentioned last week, I’m kinda in a deadline crunch and... well, this time nobody stepped up to bail me out. Thanks again to Kristi Charish for helping out. Screw you, every other writer friend I have.
Naaaah, not really...
Anyway, what I wanted to talk about this week is a bad decision I see every now and then. I saw it a lot when I used to read for screenplay contests. And I still hear mentions of it now and then.
So... okay, look, we all love the idea of getting published, right? Of getting some kind of recognition—maybe even some kind of payment—for what we do. I mean, it’s the big goal. The brass carrot. The... something.
I’ve already run out of humorous mixed metaphors.
As I was saying, back when I was reading contest scripts for ramen money, one thing I’d see again and again was people who’d done a clumsy, half-assed pass on their screenplay in a feeble attempt to make it eligible for a contest. A few cuts here. A find-and-replace there. Maybe adding in a random scene or two. Believe me, it was very clear that’s what happened.
Plus, talking with writers at many points in their careers, I sometimes hear ideas and plans. Cutting this novella down. Bulking that short story up. Maybe doing another quick draft and playing up Phoebe as a bisexual half-Asian for this one magazine. Especially if Phoebe isn’t either of those in the current draft.
It’s really tempting. I get it. We all want to get published, win the prize, get the recognition. And we’re willing to do what it takes to get there.
I probably don’t want to make sweeping changes or cuts to my story just to fit a market or contest or trend. If a magazine doesn’t touch anything over 8000 words and my short story is 8108... okay, maybe I can snip a bit here or there. But if they don’t want anything over 5000, well... my story’s probably out. That’s almost half of it gone.
Likewise, cramming in a romance just so I can try to get into a Valentine’s Day anthology... that probably won’t work. Or some hamfisted references to God and angels so I can win some of that sweet faith-based contest money.
And I know you’re probably smiling right now, but keep this in mind...
I’m not making up random examples. People do stuff like this. All the time. I read scripts for a faith-based contest and—in the course of two years—read no less than five sex-romp comedies where characters would suddenly, for just one scene, look up to the sky and beg for God’s help. And one of these was—dead serious--for help getting the hot female supporting character out of her clothes.
Because that’s funny and sexy and religious. See? Triple threat! How can it lose?
I saw someone in an online writers group just push for “cutting your story down to meet their requirements.” This was a discussion about an 11,000 word novella being trimmed to meet the needs of a 8,000 word market. And an amazing number of people chimed in to say “yeah, go for it.”
Y’see, Timmy, once we’ve been doing this for any amount of time, we start to get a feel for ideas. Some are great for flash fiction or short-short stories. Others are made to be novellas. And some are just waiting to be fleshed out into books.
And, yeah, some books are bigger than others. The book I’m wrapping up is a solid 100,000 words, but I know Chuck Wendig recently finished a monster almost three times that size, and another friend who has one coming in at a nice tight 85,000.
My point is, if I rewrote and edited and polished and my final story came in at 12,000 words... there’s a chance it’s a 12,000 word story. And cutting 25% of it will make it... well 25% less than a good story.
In my experience, most editors aren’t interested in 25% less than a good story.
Likewise, if I can make major changes to a character and it has absolutely no repercussions anywhere in their story... maybe I don’t have a great character. If making Phoebe bisexual instead of straight doesn’t change anything in my story, it’s doubtful this is the kind of story a niche market is looking for.
As always, there’s no absolutes here. Maybe I really can afford to lose three or four thousand words. Perhaps my story does need a different viewpoint to excel.
I should think long and hard about forcing a story to meet a new set of requirements. Length, style, content, whatever they may be. When I’m done, it may not be what it was.
Which would suck if it was good.
And this has turned into a much longer rant than I planned. Apologies.
Next time... well, I just finished a draft. Maybe I’ll talk a little bit about that whole process.
Until then, go write.