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Thursday, 16 January 2014

Slasher theory , or hacking it down to size

At a suggestion from a friend i am entering a writing a competition in the northern writers awards. On the flimsy grounds of nothing ventured nothing gained +http://www.northernwritersawards.com/enterawards.html
if nothing else it has been an exercise in constraint, good editing and removing the chafe.
To explain :  I am entering the first chapter of my incomplete novel 'The Passing Place'. on the grounds that they are not looking for competed works and because it has encouraged me to go back to it and get writing again. Though as i only have a week to knock it into shape. and a tight maximum word count to work with its been a strange exercise.
I am I must admit dreadful at editing my own words, not least because they become precious to me in the process of writing them. Neil Gaiman +http://journal.neilgaiman.com/ said something on his blog recently  though i can not find the exact entry. But basically it was this, he writes first drafts by hand , because once he has typed something he finds it hard to press the delete key and remove a section and is more likly to be compelled to add rather than subtract. I know this feeling, and if Mr Gaiman feels like that then I am in fine company and not at all overly precious about my words. Though his I know are much the finer.
The problem I faced entering this exert form my unfinished novel was simple , the first chapter which is what I want to use was 8460 words long. and the maximum word count for submissions to the awards is a mere  5000 words.  So i needed to edit away over THREE THOUSAND of those precious words, those lovingly crafted sentences, elegant paragraphs, neatly constructed passages. Okay they may not be great. they may not be wonderful to anyone else , but they are mine, and to me hold a beauty that others may not see.
Another author whom i admire greatly, Stephen King +http://www.stephenking.co.uk/site/Home.php5 ,  said somewhere that the hardest part of writing a book is cutting the chaff from the wheat.  Taking a scythe to all those words and cutting out the waffle. I paraphrase, he said it better. But he went on to explain his first drafts are often almost twice the length of his final drafts. This from a man whom takes 100 pages to get started some times in long but wonderful books. I shudder to think how long the dark tower novels were under his first draft.
Anyway, forcing myself to do just that in order to hit a word limit and keep the chapter a complete and coherent piece of work has taken four run through and steady but careful editing. To the point where i change one word in for two and restructure a whole paragraph  just to lose one or two from the word count. Carefully rewording things to say in ten words what was first written in fifteen without losing the strength of the words. I want the exert to say everything the full chapter said, just say it in a little over half the original text.
After the first run through i hit 7000 words  having swung a heavy axe at whole paragraphs and sections and could not see how i could trim it more .
After the second i had trimmed only another 400 and it was looking like an impossible task.
A nights sleep and a fresh head the following evening and i manage to time down to under 6000 in a third run through. and then it got remarkably easy. I found my feet and found that yes you could say the same thing in half the words if you were careful , and oddly they ended up better words , concise, wonderfully descriptive words that said exactly what i wanted, even more so than the original text .

I guess the lesson here is a simple one , never be afraid to revise, never be afraid to swing the axe and remember the best writing is not by necessity the longest, tight neat concise words can be beautiful too .....