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Eight Ways to Help You Carve Out Your Story

June 16, 2010

Regardless of genre or style, we all will likely face a common issue.  Word count.  Whether writing for an anthology, contest or submitting to publications, word count is often a primary factor in how we structure our stories.

I find the second and third rules of [fiction]Friday are the best way to approach a first draft. Get the blood on the paper – no editing. Once you have your ideas down it’s time to sharpen those knives and begin cutting away to expose the tasty morsel within. You want your story to be like a nice steak, mostly lean with just enough fat to add flavor. Here are some tips to help you trim excess fat, meet your word count and grill up a flavorful story.

  • Stop explaining things. Especially with dialogue.  Stick with basic dialogue tags.  If you have a word ending in “ly” after “he/she said”, cut it.  Your reader can figure out if your character is confused or upset or whatever without you spoon feeding them. In fact, cut most of your modifiers.  Pick a strong verb or noun rather than an adverb or adjective whenever possible.
  • Contractions are our friends. Contractions and their relation to word count should be obvious but they can do so much more.  They add realism  to your dialogue and help with the timing and flow of your story.  You do read your work aloud right?
  • Read your work aloud.
  • The obvious is obviously not necessary. Don’t tell us your character reached out their hand. They’re reaching so obviously they’re using their hand. You wouldn’t tell us they walked with their legs.  Cutting the obvious is a great story fat reducer.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. I’ll say it again… Don’t repeat yourself. Repeating one’s self is not necessary.  It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a novel or flash fiction; your reader is going to remember important details.  Don’t deny your reader their “oh, yeah” moment.
  • You should be trying not to use passive voice. Kidding aside, avoid passive voice whenever possible.  it pulls the energy from your stories.
  • Cut cliches. If there was anything new and exciting about cliches, they wouldn’t be cliches.  Use them to get your ideas down in the first draft if you need to, but rework and edit them during your second and subsequent drafts.  They’re effective if you have a character who uses them, but mostly they add to your word count without offering much in return.
  • Chop worthless flourishes. Take pride in your ability to write spectacular sentences, but if they don’t drive your story forward, get rid of them.  If it’s a really good sentence save it for something else.  Poetry is a great outlet for that sort of thing or maybe there’s a whole new story in that little nugget.

These are a few tips to help trim up your stories.  Take care with those knives of yours; you want to leave a little fat.  Remember, fat is flavour and flavour is voice.  Your writing voice is what connects you with your audience and makes your work unique.  Trim your story down to the lean meat of the plot, setting and characters, then add back just enough fat to make them delicious.

What are some of the ways you coax your stories to their desired size?

Chris Chartrand joins Write Anything as a guest writer for the first time this week in order to give Annie a break while she writes her submission for Chinese Whisperings new Anthology.  Chris is also involved with the project and on the strength of his previous submissions in [fiction]Friday, has been asked to write with the crew of The Astonishing Adventures of Captain Juan.

Annie will be back next week and would like to take this opportunity to thank the guestwriters for stepping into her place while she worked hard on her submission for Chinese Whispering‘s new Anthology.

If YOU would like to be a guest writer at Write Anything – please – pop one of the regular columnists an email!

  1. June 16, 2010 1:25 am

    This was a really great article, Chris. Would love to see you write for WA more often. I do a lot of the thing above, but my problem can sometimes being too brief.

  2. adampb permalink
    June 16, 2010 7:58 am

    The basic rules are always worth hearing again in order to better understand the sorcery of writing.
    I also find that a small lump hammer works in getting stories into shape.

  3. June 16, 2010 8:05 am

    Great post! I will definitely keep these tips in mind when trimming my current work.


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