For the first time I sent a short story to a professional editor before submitting it to a short list of publications during open submission. He did a good job and had nice words about the story’s potential. With two weeks until a major submission deadline I realized that one publication had a 5,000 word limit. My professionally edited story owns a 5,784 word count. Wham. Crisis.
Two days later, after avoiding the problem by writing other new material and re-arranging my submission files, I returned to the story that was supposed to be the core of this fall’s entry plan. So many carefully layered images of Americans in Paris, of Parisian culture, of the fears of a global pandemic were built through multiple revisions. This story was carefully managed. Each sentence holds a place of value. This story might help build readership and reputation, but not at 5,784 words. So how do I start deleting 785 words from a final version?
The opening two words began the sacrificial deletion followed by twenty-five words in the fourth paragraph. Three sentences fell off the second page for thirty-seven words. By the third page, small descriptions disappeared. Does the reader need to know the bed has starched sheets and pillowcases? In search another fifty such words are easily removed.
In this mind frame some sentences now appear extraneous. If a couple is forced to sleep in a church with hundreds of strangers during a cold Paris winter, the reader will probably understand they are in a seriously dangerous situation. In twenty-one pages at least a half-dozen similar structures jump into the trash. Two paragraphs of nice description volunteer eighty-nine words.
When I processed the edits more small changes became obvious. With three pages remaining the word count dropped to 4,980. Continuing to the end, more phrases and sentences disappeared. Like trees cleared of dead branches, the story while losing pages of stuff stood more perfectly formed. This tighter version is a better story, the version that will be submitted regardless of word count requirement. Wham. Wow.
Note to self: when the story feels complete, delete five percent.