Summer Writing Series: When is it enough?

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Today’s guest author is my friend and author, Tara Fox Hall. She is the author of the Promise Me series and many other novels! Besides being a busy writer, she has been a great mentor to me. If you’re lucky, you may find someone like her to help you through the ups and downs of writing and promotion.

JUST SHORT ENOUGH

The term “word count” is familiar to any author, no matter if they write long novels or micro fiction. But the term is probably most important to those who write shorter stories, like flash fiction.

Most flash fiction is 1000 words or less, though some websites define it as 500 words, maximum. But no matter how you define it, one thing is cut and dry: word count is everything. It defines the story arc, giving the action precise limits, demanding that each word be essential to the action, or face the chopping block. When you have that few words, you can’t afford to waste one that doesn’t convey plot, mood, or meaning.

My first experience with word count was a 24-hr contest I entered. The topic was given in a paragraph. The limit was 900 words, firm. I wrote the story I wanted to write, and then checked the word count. It was 1200 words. Panicked, I began paring down, then checked again. Still too long by over a hundred words. I pared down to the absolute max, then checked again. Still too long.

That day, I wrote and rewrote the story, checking the word count again and again. Each time, I was either under and the story was choppy, or the story was complete and I was over the limit. Frustrated and tense as a spring, I pushed myself to keep reworking, to make the deadline with an engaging story. Hours later, I finished with 2 words to spare, at 898 words. It had been arduous, but I’d done it. Excited and relieved, I sent it off, sure I would place, if not win the prize.

I didn’t win the contest. I didn’t even get an honorable mention. But the experience gave me the skills to convey my story arc in the least number of words possible. I could write an interesting story in a set number of words, if I just worked at it. Further, I was sure that I could do it for stories from my own imagination. I’d learned something valuable and I couldn’t wait to put it to use.

I went on to place many horror stories, and then longer works, most recently Just Shadows, my anthology of horror stories from Bradley Publishing. And my story that failed to win? I sold it a year later to the Halloween Alliance, where it still resides online for all to enjoy.

You can find Tara’s books here:

Melange Books

and more about Tara here:

Website: www.tarafoxhall.com      PM9DarkSolace-FINAL

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13 thoughts on “Summer Writing Series: When is it enough?

  1. Good lesson for writers: if something doesn’t win a contest (or sell to the first publisher) that doesn’t mean it’s not sellable. Keep querying, keep pitchin’.

  2. Been there, cut a lot of words. It’s amazing how much you can cut and still have a good story. However, once I kept cutting and actually destroyed the story. There was nothing left that was worthwhile. I gave up on that story for that market/contest.

    • I agree on this POV, too. Trying to adhere to a certain word count can kill a great story, when the arc of the tale is too great to be condensed into a small amount of words. There’s a big difference between writing a novel, writing a novella, and writing super short work like flash fiction. Happy writing Pagadan 🙂

  3. I’m still a fan of longer works. I much prefer complex stories with more facets to the plot, action and character development. A read should feel they’ve lived the story and came to understand characters as well as real life acquaintances and friends.

    • That’s what makes the world go round! I agree, if I am going invest time, I want a long story. But if I’m waiting for an appointment, I may want a quick, short story.

  4. I try to follow that golden rule of making every word count. If a scene doesn’t have a purpose, even though I think it’s clever and sassy, I delete, delete, delete. Somtimes It feels like cutting off my arm, LOL! 🙂

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