Last month I received a request to write a short story for a UK dollshouse (their spelling) magazine. The assignment sounded easy: 2000 words, featuring my Miniature Mysteries characters, to be serialized over three months.
I’ve written a few short stories, the latest about 9000 words, so this should be even easier, right? Well, wrong. I have new respect for Dickens. This might have been the hardest writing job I’ve had, not counting that first novel, which took 60 years to write.
Here’s how the numbers stack up: Each of the 3 parts had to be 666 words (yes, that’s the Number of the Beast), with an exactly + 2-word margin. Parts 1 and 2 had to have some kind of cliffhanger endings; Parts 2 and 3 each needed a bit of a recap since for some readers it would be a month between installments (unless they saved them for one “long” read).
Fortunately, I have a lot of computer real estate – a 27-inch iMac, so I could lay out the docs for the 3 parts side by side and move phrases from one part to the other, keeping track of the word count in each section.
Note: I’ve already used more than 1/3 of the allotted words to tell you about the logistics.
Fast forward to today, a week after I submitted the story.
I started a new novel, the 4th in my Professor Sophie Knowles series. I was really looking forward to it, thinking, YAY, no restrictive word count. I’m free to put together long, brilliant metaphors, to use 3 adjectives for one noun, to have page-long repartee among my characters. At last, free flowing prose.
But that short story exercise has spoiled me forever.
So what if I now have 80000 words to tell my story? That doesn’t relieve me of the pressure to make each word count. Just because I can go on and on doesn’t meant I should.
So, now I’m approaching novel writing with an increased sense of structure and parsimony.
Oops, do I really need the word, “increased” in that last sentence? And I can trim a word from the opening of the blog. I was asked to (4 words), instead of I received a request to (5 words), or, better yet, A UK dollshouse magazine asked me to … which ends up a total of 3 fewer.
It’s a good thing I like arithmetic.
Still, it’s going to be a long night.