I’ve never put much thought into my word count. I’ve been writing stories that I want to see published into books and–while I do cut back on excessive wording–I figure that anything beyond that will be dictated by a Literary Agent or Publisher. It isn’t until recently that I’ve hit this head on–and not because one of stories has been picked up.
Around the time I started this blog it occurred to me that writing and submitting short stories for competitions would be an excellent attempt to get my name out there. My research into getting a novel published suggested that Literary Agents tend to pay more attention to queries made by people who either have work already published and/or have received awards for it. I’m not so arrogant as to think that I’ll win any of the competitions on my list, but it’s a start and you never know. Stranger things have happened. It’s also challenged me to find ways to tell a story without expounding upon ideas as I usually do. After all, when you’re limited to 8,000 words, you’ve got to get creative. This wasn’t a problem with the first two competitions that I entered. The one I’m currently working on, however, is a tad more challenging.
To start with, the competition limits you to 6,000 words. No problem, I figured. I wrote out my plot points, determined how many words I could have in each chapter, and set off. Now, I’ve been gifted with an active imagination. The down side is that I can’t write succinctly–not the first time at least. I generally write more than I need to. So it came as no surprise to me that–when I typed up my story–I’d exceeded the word count. What did surprise me was by how much. I had 8,399 words. I was 2,399 words over my limit. Suffice to say, some things had to go.
Thomas Jefferson is quoted as once saying, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” And that’s what I did. I looked for areas where I could use less words to say the same thing and relied heavily on abbreviations. I went through my work, typed up the corrections, and did another word count. My new total? 7,752. Drats!
I once read that–as a writer–you’ve got to learn to kill your darlings. In my next round of revisions I’ll be doing just that, looking for things that I can paraphrase or simply remove outright. I’m not worried as the deadline for the competition is a month away and I’m enjoying the challenge. I’ve no compunction about ‘killing my darlings’ to make the story fit the requirements. But I think I’m plagued with the question that all writers eventually face.
Which darlings should I kill, and how many of them must be sent to the writer’s grave?
Disclaimer: I do not own the imagery used in this blog post and have no artistic claim to it.