Grab the Ax!

Pile Of WordsI’ve never had this problem in my entire writing life–too many words. My short story is about 300 words too long for the contests I want to enter. I’ve already pared out around a thousand words, but I still need to whack out the rest from somewhere. I decided I needed help.

Usually I send my works out through cyberspace to one person at a time. They have time to read it, consider it, write a response, and consider the tone of the response, so when I hear from them again, they’ve carefully crafted a letter designed to very sweetly tear my piece apart in all loving intentions of making it better. Words of critique carefully packaged in praise. The critique still stings, but praise is a wonderful balm.

Last night, I took the piece to my local critique group and had an eye-opening experience. I sat in a room full of writers who are strangers to me and I to them, wondering of the quality of their critique and at the same time hoping they like my work. With a knot in my stomach and my heart pounding, I read the short story to them as they read along with hard copies I’d provided, then waited quietly for them to digest it. All I wanted was ideas of how to ax out 300 words from what I felt was an already tight piece.

When I was a kid, we had a pet crow, Jeckyl. He’d been raised from an egg by an Aggie who couldn’t keep him at his new apartment, so Jeckyl was pretty tame. Sweet, funny, unfamiliar with the ways of the wild. He got out of his cage once and flew to the neighborhood park, only to be chased home by a bunch o’ mockingbirds who dive-bombed him at every opportunity. Poor old crow couldn’t catch a break.

Call me Jeckyl.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone loved it. But five different people–at five different levels of expertise and understanding–had an exponential number of ideas how to make it better. They all had questions–why didn’t you do this? (I did, it’s here [point to page]), why didn’t you say that? (I did, it’s here [point to page]), why did that happen? (because, I explain, and point to page . . . ).

Still, I got some truly valuable feedback. These folks weren’t shy about giving me their views, which is great. That’s why I read it to them. All in all, it was a terrific session, especially considering the fact they’d only heard the story once and had less  than ten minutes to digest it.

There was one scene that hit some as superfluous, so if I cut that–at least in this short version–I’ll be okay. Total words axed? 307.

Mission accomplished.

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
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14 Responses to Grab the Ax!

  1. Well done for reading aloud to a group to begin with. I’d be terrified. Glad you got to cull your words

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  2. Linda,
    I can so relate to axing words. As a memeber of Word Weavers I appreciate the input from my critique group. Always insightful. The one difference that really helps me see stuff to change is no one in our group reds theri own stuff. Someone else reads it outloud. So, as I follow along with everyone else I am finding blaring errors as I hear my words read. For example plurals that should be singular. homophone fohpahs and wrong word choices. My mind reads what I intended. Others read what they see.

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  3. scmathisen says:

    Brilliantly described experience. That must have been fantastic to be able to get such helpful and immediate feedback. 😀

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  4. K.M. Weiland says:

    That sounds… educative. :p Good luck in the contest!

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  5. Having that many opinions would be helpful, each will pick up on something different – or miss something. Interesting what readers see and don’t see. As Stephen King said, if one mentions something, the author gets to decide. If two or more say the same thing, the author would be advised to look at the work with that critique in mind. (Or something to that effect.) I am glad that at least you found the weakest spot to ax, without destroying the story. Sounds like fun (if a bit nerve wracking) evening! (And I see you manage to pull out a blog idea out of your hat – good job!)

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  6. I’m tired. I thought you wrote that someone raised a cow from the egg. I kept looking for the punchline.

    Headed to bed. zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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