Story Evolution – You’re not writing for you.

Okay, so I did something interesting and, I hope, successful. This involves a story I’ve been writing and rewriting for a very long time and it’s based on an event in my childhood. Yes, fiction based on real liminal moments growing up gay in a homophobic world. I’ve been working on a collection of these for many years – some of the stories have been published. For this particular story, I finally figured out how it should go and started over, taking what was a 4,000 word third-person diorama and going with a first-person for the next round.

This took longer than I thought (doesn’t it always?), and I’d beat myself up over not finishing it and getting it out the door. I hadn’t looked at the word count until I was nearly finished with this last go ’round. When I checked, I had a novelette weighing in at just under 10,000 words, and that was after editing it down from much more. So, considering that my novels usually come in around 100,000 words and have taken years in some cases, I cut myself some slack and relaxed.

In a week, I’d scrubbed the thing clean and had something to be proud of. It had nostalgic scenes describing the landscapes, weather, people, anecdotes, and so on, in exquisite detail. It had my memories almost down to the dragonfly. It was ready to go, a perfect addition to the collection IF I WAS JUST WRITING IT FOR MYSELF. Lightbulb moment, huh?

For fun (I told myself so it wouldn’t hurt) why not take a copy of this “finished story” and scrape out all the nostalgic bits, all the lovely but unnecessary descriptions, and see what was left? Would the story still work?

My 9,800 word story whittled its way down to 7,200 words. It was every bit as evocative as the long version without all the padding that really did get in the way. My mind had wanted things to be perfectly accurate even though they were unnecessary to the story line, even for scenes that I had made up.

So, what to make of this? Well, it was important for me to core-dump as many details as I could into the writing of it. In the editing of it, I had everything I needed for the story right there and all I had to do was subtract out the bits that weren’t needed, that didn’t move things forward, that weren’t absolutely necessary. Those are the right details. Sometimes you have to learn things on your own; even though you may know them intellectually (and may even have taught them). Until it matters, it doesn’t matter.

That’s my epiphany for the week. Yes, I did submit the story so now the jury is out on that, but I’m very happy, and have new eyes that I’m looking through.

Be well, be safe. Write on.

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