Authors are constantly evolving. Even late in their careers, they’re never not learning new tricks or trying some experiment with their latest story. Check out Anne Rice’s latest stories, introducing scientific elements into what are normally supernatural stories, or JK Rowling going from fantasy coming-of-age series into literary and crime. Heck, His Royal Highness Stephen King is doing hard-crime and has introduced more alien and sci-fi elements into a lot of his recent stories.
Back in January I wrote a post about how I wanted to create the same images in my stories but with less words. As my word counts are still often very high, measuring whether or not I’m actually succeeding based on that. So while I’ve been editing one of my short stories for an anthology I wanted to get published in, I looked at specific paragraphs, looked at how they were pre-editing, and then what they looked like post-editing. What I got looked pretty promising.
Here’s one paragraph prior to editing:
One of the cheerleaders opened a door and Lizzy was thrown in, falling down a set of stairs. As she landed on hard concrete floor, she heard the girls laughing up above. They thought this was funny? She’d be lucky if she came away from this with just bruised ribs!
And here’s the same paragraph after it’s been edited:
One of the cheerleaders opened a door and Lizzy was thrown in, falling down a set of stairs, landing hard on concrete floor, the other girls laughing up above. They thought this was funny? She’d be lucky if she came away with only bruised ribs!
There’s a five-word difference, two sentences have been merged into one, and I changed “just” for “only” in the last sentence. There’s a more noticeable difference in the second example I have:
Suddenly Eric stood up, turning around in a circle to face the cheerleaders with an angry look on his face. Some of the cheerleaders actually shrank away from him, which Lizzy thought was extraordinary: she’d never thought anything but pimples scared these narcissistic twats.
And the edited version:
Eric stood up, glaring at each and every cheerleader in turn. Some of them actually shrank away from him, which Lizzy thought was extraordinary: she’d thought nothing but pimples actually scared these narcissistic twats.
Ten word difference, and if you ask me it creates the same basic image while being less wordy. In fact, I thin it’s written better than the first example, creating much more compelling images than before. And along with these examples, I’ve noticed a few more differences in how I write. For instance, I’m using less words involving the suffix “ing” (otherwise known as a gerund*). I would often write a sentence like this, “Getting up and heading to the cabinet, Lizzy slid back the secret panel and got out the scotch”. Now I prefer writing “Lizzy got up, went to the cabinet, slid back the secret panel, and got out the scotch.” To me, this seems not necessarily smoother, but it sounds better to me. It’s four succinct actions, one after another. Boom, boom, boom, boom, forming images in your head that run in fluid succession, like a scene on a Blu-Ray disc. Plus one word shorter, that’s not bad.
In any case, I feel like this is real good progress for me. Like I’ve said before, I’ve stopped worrying about word count because that sort of worry makes it difficult for me to tell the story as it needs to be told. But if finding ways to tell the same good story with less words can make for a better story, then yes I will pay attention to word count. And as you know, I’m all about telling a great story, so I’ll keep working on trying to tell a good story with less words, see where it gets me.
Hopefully many more stories, a few more published works and a lot of scared readers. Am I right?
That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll see you next time, which I swear will be before I leave Germany. Have a good one!
*Funny story I can’t resist telling you, when I was in high school at Columbus Torah Academy, I was taking an English class and we were going over the different parts of grammar. When we came upon gerunds, I commented that the word sounded British (and they kind of do). My English teacher then, for whatever reason, told me to speak British. So I put on my terrible British accent, and start saying all these British phrases: “Pip pip, cheerio.” “Spot of tea and crumpets.” “God save the Queen.” And then randomly the head of the Judaic Studies department at the time, Rabbi Elbaz, a short Moroccan rabbi with this really thick accent, walks into our classroom. I say, “God save Rabbi Elbaz too.” The class laughs, and then Rabbi Elbaz says, “Oy Rami, now God will look into my records and see all the bad things I’ve done.” I swear, the whole class was laughing hysterically until he left! I wish I knew what he thought of it.