Slash-and-burn editing

Posted: June 29, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

Just finished submitting a story to the 14th Chiaroscuro Short Story contest.

Chizine is considered a pro market by the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers Association) and pay 7 cents a word. At 4000 words, that would net me $280 for a win, place or show, and publication in an upcoming issue.

That would be the most I’ve made on a story. If I were to break this down into an hourly rate, it would probably come to less than a dollar an hour.

It’s a revenge story called “El Dorado.” The Crowbar Man, a fresh-out-of-prison drug dealer returns to the edge of the Everglades to retrieve something he left behind. He encounters the usual Florida obstacles — strangler fig trees, finger-seeking snapping turtles, etc. His presence also incites the reanimation of one of his victims. Seems that there’s a long-dead orthopedic surgeon that still takes appointments, and he’s reactivated this particular victim, using the bones and a few spare parts.

The idea for this story had been floating around in my diseased brain for quite a while, and the first draft came easy. However, the split narrative was difficult. I originally wrote the drug dealer using first person, but this didn’t work for the revenant/reanimator interplay. The first version of it that actually worked had the dealer in first person present tense, the rest in third-person past, with the final conflict in FPP.

This would be a tough sell to any editor, and I’ve found resistance to first person of any kind. I knew that the FPP had to go.

Another problem I had was that there was quite a bit of backstory. Too much backstory sucks the life out of the narrative. So I hacked and streamlined as much as I could and had a pretty decent story of about 4800 words.

Problem: the markets I wanted to submit this story have limits of 4000 words.

Trust me, it’s easier to increase the word count by 200% than to reduce it by 20%. I started by applying my 20% slash-and-burn per section, then per paragraph, and then per sentence. The final story came in at 3973.

It’s a better, tighter story now. Whether my comedic approach to horror disqualifies me remains to be seen.

God, I’m sick of that story. On to the next one. Something with tentacles and a swimming pool.

Don’t forget to checkout “The Lizard Pit” podcast on Well Told Tales. It’s freeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

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