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Writing Prompt #23 Crunch it Down

October 25, 2010

I just reduced a 7,000 word story to 3,000 words and made it better. At the start, I didn’t believe it was possible but this was the only plausible story to use and the opportunity called for a 3,000 submission. “What harm can it do to try?” I thought.

Here’s the original opening:

Amel’s face was gloriously beautiful, his lashes long and jeweled.  His layered robes equated him with the god-king in the painting hung behind him in a frame of gold so heavy it would take a dozen servants to move it a centimeter.

Princess Dela sat sniffling at the foot of his divan, heaped in billows of her courtly gown.  A crushed and tear-stained letter lay in her lap, crested with a pair of crossed swords on a background of crimson. She had shown the letter to Amel, and confessed all, in the hope he would dispel the terrors raised against her purpose by a prejudice as old as the Demish and Vrellish blood lines of the greater classification of mankind known as Sevolites.  She had hoped he would assure her love would conquer.

Instead, his compassion stung as he leaned forward.  “Oh, Dela,” he warned, and set cool fingers on her bright curls.  “Vras will break your heart.”

Here’s the crunched version:

Dela sat sniffling at the foot of Prince Amel’s divan. A crushed and tear-stained letter lay in her lap. Amel touched her head with his gentle hand. “Dela,” he warned, “Don’t go. Vras is Vrellish. He’ll break your heart.”

There is no denying detail has been lost. But most of it had little to do with Dela and her inappropriate lover, Vras. Amel is only incidental to this story even though he’s an important character in my larger saga, so snip-snip he went and I managed to compress three paragraphs into one, shoving the story’s central conflict up front in the process. True, I lost the mini-info dump about the Demish and Vrellish being two distinct races within a larger group called Sevolites, but maybe it is more enticing to make ’em wonder why Vras being Vrellish means heartbreak for Dela.

Even so, my first crunch reduced the story to 4,000 words, not the 3,000 I desired. Feeling I had already been ruthless, I nearly gave up. Then I noticed I had a whole character who no longer needed to exist in the new version. So I made a second pass hunting leftovers from deleted business and — voila! It was down to 3,000 words.

It was a learning experience. Take something you’ve written a while ago and try it. Really makes you focus on where the story is.

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