Thursday, June 21, 2007

I finished my story for the ArmadilloCon writing workshop

Yesterday I finished a story for the ArmadilloCon writing workshop and mailed it. What a relief to be able to actually finish a story after 2 weeks worth of intense late night work! (And that wasn't writing -- it was just the editing.) What an excitement to know that a little less than 2 months from now it will be ripped into shreds... err, constructively criticized. :-)

Yes, I would be very excited to look forward to the workshop, except for this little bummer. My story is more than twice the 5000 word count limit. It's over 11,000 words. So I did what the Writers' Workshop instructions suggest to do in such cases: I cut it off at roughly 5000 words and put "the story continues" at the end. Even though that's clearly an undesirable option, because, to quote the workshop guidelines, "We recommend that you do not go over the word limit if writing a short story as it will not be representative of the work as a whole." Of course it won't. But what can I do if I am incapable of writing short fiction? I tried. Every time I start out to write a story, I think I can sum up its idea in 3 sentences; it's like, what will I fill those pages with? Then I start to write an outline, and lo and behold -- the outline itself takes 3 pages! :-) Then when I start writing the actual prose, I end up wondering if this wouldn't work better as a novel. :-)

And so it was with this story. I wasn't kidding when I said I spent the last 2 weeks just editing. The story itself was written half a year ago, but back then I was unable to finish it. Which is to say, I had written all the text that was supposed to go into it (and much, much more :-)), but I stopped short of reshuffling blocks of text to give it a linear structure. It had a beginning and an end, but I wasn't sure what the right sequence of events was, if that makes any sense. Back then I lost my focus and took a break from it. During the last 2 weeks I reorganized the text from an undirected graph of events into a narrative. :-)

In the process of editing / reshuffling, I cut, cut and cut. Oh, how I cut! It turned out it wasn't worthwhile to try to rewrite chapters of Wikipedia as dialogues between characters. :-) I cut them all out. 3/4 of "cool" science and technology that I thought was crucial to the story at first, turned out to be non-essential, so it all ended up in the trash. After all this butchering, the story still was over 11,000 words! This was insane. Realizing I'll have to cut it off at 5000 words, I was at least hoping those 5000 will come right around the cliffhanger (whatever passes for a cliffhanger in a story that reads like a troubleshooting script. :-)) But no, even that wasn't possible. After another pass of ruthless slicing, I had to cut it off at a point before things get really interesting (OK, so "really interesting" in my story is a relative term :-))

It's pathetic. I can't expect to get a meaningful critique of this story. Without having read the ending, the only meaningful input the critiquers can give me is on my writing style (dry), and characters (bland). But what can I do if I'm just not cut out to write short fiction? It would be a very good skill to develop, but I don't know if I can. What's worse, even as there are very few markets for short stories, there are fewer-to-none markets for novellette-length stories, such as mine! I really need to transition to a more marketable format. Don't know how to do it short of a complete brain rewiring. :-)

Anyway, I'm still proud of myself for finishing this story.

The funny thing is, before I could even mail the story, I almost acquired a reader. :-) An employee at Kinko's who helped me find the right envelope for mailing the story, picked it up and started reading it while I was writing the address on the envelope. A youngish Hispanic woman, she did not seem like a stereotypical reader of hard SF. I almost panicked: OMG, she'll think I'm weird! Most of my stories contain words that are not in the dictionary. ;-) Resisting an impulse to mutter "don't read this, it's for weird people only!" I politely pulled the sheaf of papers out of her hands. :-)

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