18 August 2012

Word Counts and Sparkly Shoes

Generally, I’m not a fan of limits. I don’t enjoy limiting my food choices, hours of sleep or the amount of money that I (shouldn’t) spend on shoes…like these beauties I wore to a friend’s wedding last year:

How could I say no to those gems? How could I deny my longing to feel almost tallish for a few magical hours in towering rhinestone heels? I’m glad I made the frivolous purchase even though I could’ve made a more frugal choice at Kohl’s. But, I admit, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes holding back is a good thing.
Recently I finished writing a short story I’d been working on. I was happy with my verbose descriptions of dust swirling along the surface of the dry ground and a frayed flag dancing in the wind. I had fun playing with language and when I placed the period at the end of the final sentence I was proud of what I’d done. For, like, five minutes. 
Then I realized I'd run far past the required word count for the contest I want to enter. At first there didn’t seem to be any possible way to preserve the integrity and meaning in my story while reducing it by over 1000 words. Only when I dove into the revisions did I rediscover the clever art of refrain. I chiseled away unessential descriptions and watched a sharper story emerge from a fuzzy pile of fluff. 
For example, here’s just one of the changes I made. The following sentences existed prior to my revision:
Almost an hour into the show, the frayed yellow flag atop the red and white striped tent made gentle snapping sounds as it danced in the warm breeze. Dust swirled along the surface of the Southern California ground and when the breeze died, the dust settled, the flag ceased its dance and the snapping sound stopped.     
My intent was to show that the circus tent was so quiet that you could hear a flag flapping in the breeze. The problem is that I used far too many words to make a simple point. Here is the same part of the story after I revised it:
An hour later the red and white striped tent that was filled to capacity sat hushed in the deepening twilight.
Yup, I pretty much deleted everything. There's nothing wrong with being descriptive, but when writing a flash fiction piece every word must be scrutinized. What started as a flowery short story ended up being an exercise in the skill of saying just enough. When it comes to writing, less really is more. However, when it comes to shoes my advice is to never hold back :) 
Click here to see some great upcoming writing contests. If you’d like to partner up and critique each other’s entries send me an email!

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