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May 14, 2014

Reveal, Advance, or Get Out of My Story

I recently wrote a short story and decided to submit it to a publication. I hired our own novelspaces co-ordinator, Liane, who did a brilliant line edit on it and I was about to submit it when I re-read the submission requirements.

Maximum word count: 3,500 words.

Yikes! My story was pushing 5,000 words. I had to drop a third of it and quick.


I’m sure that publications have their reasons for limiting the number of words, but these limits keep authors honest. Kurt Vonnegut
is said to have said “Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action. So I trimmed everything that didn’t do either of these things and found myself with 3,450 words that expressed everything that needed to be said about my characters and the situation in which they found themselves.

What had been in those 1,500 words anyway?

It was a difficult process. I get attached to scenes and sentences I feel are catchy. Or one can get hung up on teaching the audience a particular lesson which may not emerge naturally from the plot. In the latter case, we manipulate the characters’ actions and words so that my viewpoints come through. That’s a recipe for disaster because the readers will spot the lack of authenticity in the character’s voice.

What has your experience been in trimming fat from your work?

Originally appeared in NovelSpaces

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