Monday, November 30, 2015

Subplots and Storylines - November 2015

November trundled in with sullen skies of low-slung clouds. For a week it glowered in typical November fashion, all skeleton trees and dead leaves skittering in a northern wind. Grey. Bleak. Winter's prologue.

But at last the sun broke free, and Autumn revived itself for one last hooraha week of blue sky and leaf-raking and lounging on the front lawn just because I could. (In single layers, no less. At 15 degrees Celsius, it was positively gorgeous and rather uncharacteristic for November.)

"Ha!" laughed Winter, and his guffaw blew clouds back in on a high, chilly wind. The first snow arrived. Not much, but enough to initially make for slippery roads.

But you're not here for a weather report, are you?

These tidbits should be more interesting . . .

November saw me turn twenty! My wonderful family took me out for an elegant lunch at a place that served the most delicious wild rice and mushroom soup I've ever tasted. (Alright, so it was the first wild rice and mushroom soup I'd ever tasted. But I still think it was the tastiest.) I then spent the afternoon doing all the best nothings, such as reading. My grandma came over for the evening, I received thoughtful gifts, and then we all had raspberry swirl cheesecake. All in all, I consider myself very blessed.

This month also saw my youngest sister enter the teenage years. Happy birthday, Kit-Kat! I was originally scheduled to work on that day, but at the last minute, was able to switch shifts so I could stay home with her.

I've been working full-time. The store has been busy, especially on Black Friday. (Why, oh why, is that day cause for such a hullabaloo?)

A week ago, I spent an afternoon in the city with a very dear friend of minea kindred spiritduring which time we ate pizza, shopped, and had our nails done. Time spent with her is like a breath of fresh air for my heart. It's uncanny how often we're on the same page life-wise or thought-wise, and we constantly have "What? You too?" moments.

Christmas shopping has commenced. Can you believe Christmas is less than four weeks away?!

And questers. I have obtained my first ever little magical box, a piece of wizardry capable of long distance communication, the capturing of images, and the scheduling of days. Yes. I bought a cell phone! I know, in a world where even little children flaunt these gadgets, it seems a bit unremarkable. But this is my first phone, and my dad found me a fabulous deal. Much excitement.

Now then, as vastly interesting as those little life updates are (at least, more interesting than the weather report), you're really just scrolling down to read about the story-related stuff, am I right? The books, movies, and writing? I shall tarry no longer.

In movies
I watched only one, Inside Out. It was so good! Plugged In's review remarks that "Hollywood's bravest storytellers all work for Pixar," and I'm inclined to agree. Getting inside the mind of an eleven-year-old girl was fascinating, humorous, and definitely feels-inducing. Sadness was one of my favorite characters.

In books
Heh. Only two.

Omega Dragon by Bryan Davis

Ah, the epic conclusion to a twelve-book adventure! I didn't think anything could top The Bones of Makaidos, but this one is on par for sure. It made me laugh, cry, and fret over the fate of certain characters. Intense battles alongside heartfelt journeys made for a classic Davis tale.

Something about this book hearkened back to older instalments, which was wonderful, especially considering the dark, apocalyptic setting. Lauren's scenes especially reminded me of previous tests of the heart encountered by her parents. For some reason, I haven't connected to Matt and Lauren quite as deeply as I did with Billy and Bonnie, but this book did strengthen my emotional ties to the younger pair.

Again, that ending. That ending! It was glorious. I wish I could say why, but really you just need to read it for yourself.

Before I move on, though . . . I accidentally skipped a chapter. *le gasp* How could I do such a thing? And with one of my favorite series of ever, too?

See, I checked it out of the library and started reading it, only to receive my own copy for my birthday. (The first book, Raising Dragons was a gift for my thirteenth, by the way. Getting the final book for my twentieth was kind of perfect.) Anyway, because I like to keep my books in good condition, I held onto the library copy to bring with me to work, to read on lunch breaks. At home, I picked up wherever I left off with my personal copy. So I went back and forth between the two books for a while. One morning, in a rush to get to work, I must have moved my bookmark one chapter too far. Because as I was reading on break, I had the strange sense that I was missing something. The characters were doing what they'd planned to do, but I was somewhat confused as to how they'd gotten there. "Perhaps Bryan Davis expects the readers to connect the dots," I thought. "And I am, after all, reading this book in choppy little spurts, so it could very well be that I've just forgotten a detail or two. I'm sure it will all make sense soon." So I kept reading.

It wasn't until that night, nestled in to read the final (28th) chapter, that I realized, "Oh no! I never read chapter 23!" Quickly, I read what I'd missed, then scanned the following chapters in order to iron out the sequence of events in my mind. Finally, satisfied and no longer confused, I read that last beautiful chapter and said goodbye to characters I've grown up with. So bittersweet . . .

One of these days, I plan to read all twelve books back to back.

Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz

Not nearly as epic or emotional as the previous read, but then, I wasn't expecting it to be. This one is more like a summer action flick--just there to entertain.

Young Alex Rider (a James Bond type of character, only fourteen years old) infiltrates a school for boys located in France. It's run by a crazy villain and his disturbing cement-block-of-a-woman sidekick. The story follows the same plot pattern as the first book in the series:

-Alex is forced into a mission he doesn't want
-There's a period of training/preparation in which he encounters a series of obstacles
-The real mission begins
-He eventually discovers the villain's plot
-Chase/fight scenes
-The end
-Oh, and there are lots of neat spy gadgets disguised as inconspicuous objects, like a book or an earring or a Discman (yes, this book was written in the early 2000's).

In writing
I worked on a motley of projects this month, or at least more than this single-minded tortoise usually does. (Well, I'm not always tortoise slow, but never mind all that.)

  • The Brightest Thread // I read over it twice, each in two sittings. I tweaked and fiddled with various things, worried over whether parts of it were paced too fast, and in the end declared, "I love this story!" The ending, you guys. It just makes me giddy, which, at this point, is kind of miraculous. Oh, I also caught wee mistakes I hadn't seen before, such as miscounting the fairy stewards in the first scene. And speaking of TBT, the beginning of it recently went up for critique on The Author's Chair (Bryan Davis's blog)! If you feel so inclined, you may hop on over and nitpick it for me. I'm up for big critiques, little critiques, harsh critiques, and I-love-it critiques. Seriously. Any thoughts at all are appreciated.
  • That secretive 'Book 1' I sometimes talk about here // After so much time and effort spent on the aforementioned novella, this 'first love' of mine has been calling to me again. So, while in between projects, I read the first few chapters. I've a few more edits to complete before I can call it ready, so I figured that a read-over would help get my brain in gear for that. Turns out that the distance afforded by my Five Magic Spindles entry has caused me to fall in love with book 1 all over again. A break away was just what I needed, and now I'm itching to dive back into this thing!
  • Darkened Slumber // Have I mentioned that my brother is entering the Five Magic Spindles contest too? I don't recall. Anyway, he is. His story is, in his words, a pseudo-feudal Japanese fantasy. I just spent a week editing it for him. He's done an amazing job cutting it down to size on his own (he was only 1400 words over . . . I's jealous), after which he turned it over to me. To give you a taste, the tale involves an awesome sword, big bad creatures, and an epic journey flavored with a sprinkle of humor and a dash of heartbreak. (Okay, more like a cup or two of that.)
And that was my November. How was yours, fellow adventurers? What quests have you been pursuing? Some of you are Nano survivorscome and collapse and possibly hibernate until Christmas. (In all honesty, I watched you with some envy at the beginning of the month, as you plotted and planned and psyched each other up. By the end of the month, after hearing about the short nights and sore eyes/wrists and rebellious plots, I'm more relieved that I chose not to shoulder that this year. Perhaps I'll join the insanity next year?) But do share the war stories!

And for those of you who did not Nano this year, what filled your month? Have you read any of the books I mentioned or watched Inside Out?

Oh, before I bid you adieu, happy belated Thanksgiving to my American friends!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

One Lovely Blog Award

Emily, thou art a blog-saver. I slept in till midmorning today (hallelujah; after this week, I sorely needed it) and realized, "Um, I don't have a post for today." Between my previous entry raising support for the Children of the Bard audiobooks and today, my brain has had about zero space for blogging. And then I sit down to scrounge something up for you faithful questers, and lo and behold, Emily has nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award! Many thanks.

So. Seems simple enough. Seven facts about me. Nominate fifteen bloggers (. . . which may shrivel down to a smaller number). Here we go.

1. I live with siblings who love to quote things, mainly movies. My brother especially has a filing cabinet for a brain. He must have hundreds of quotes stored in there, complete with voice impersonations. Alas, I do not have this ability. So it gave me great joy recently to be able to say, in the accent of Scarlet Witch (from Avengers: Age of Ultron):

"Ve vait for two days for Stark to kill us."

When my brother admitted that was pretty good, I enthusiastically repeated myself throughout the day, much to his growing annoyance.

2. Speaking of Marvel, this trailer makes me flail like a hungry octopus. Deb's fangirl post preeeeetty much sums it all up.

3. As a wee child, I loved pineapple. Until another little girl, a guest in our home, loudly declared her distaste for pineapple on her pizza. From that point on, I hated it. It took me all the way to my teenage years to rediscover my love for pineapple, both on its own and on pizza.

4. This:

5. One of the best things about my job is the casual dress code. I get to wear jeans to work!

6. My absolute favorite band from about age eleven to fifteen or sixteen was pureNRG.

I bought all their albums and basically didn't listen to anything else; three of their posters graced my wall; and I went to one of their concerts. I've since outgrown them, but every now and then I listen to some of their music just for nostalgia's sake.
7. While we're on the topic of my childhood . . . I had this big stuffed dog named Casey. During my early elementary years, before I started being homeschooled, I would put her on the living room couch and instruct my mom to leave her there all day. Otherwise she'd be too lonely! She had to be with people! Toys have feelings, you know. (Toy Story convinced me of this.)
I nominate . . .
Jenelle Leanne @ (Not sure if you do tags, but here it is if you want it.)
So not exactly fifteen, but if anyone else out there wants to snag it, consider yourself nominated! Thanks again, Emily!
I'll be back on Monday with the November edition of Subplots and Storylines.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Children of the Bard Audiobooks - Fundraising Project

If you've known me for any length of time, you know how much I love books. And if you've known me for a little bit longer, you know how much I love Bryan Davis's books. They have impacted me in many ways: in character, in faith, in passion, and also in writing craft.

Of all his tales, the story world that has touched me perhaps the most is Dragons in Our Midst (along with the following two series, Oracles of Fire and Children of the Bard). I've grown up alongside these characters. The faith they display through hardships and struggles has inspired me countless times. Bonnie's purity, Sapphira's immense patience, Billy's journey to maturity, Ashley's surrender, Matt and Lauren's sacrificial hearts . . . On every page I've found characters to learn from, look up to, and emulate. If you've never read these books, I highly recommend you do!

SongCover200Right now, Bryan Davis is holding a campaign to raise the funds needed to create an audiobook of the CotB series. His publisher made audiobooks of the first two series, but decided not to do the same for the third. Audiobooks make stories available to a wider scope of readers--the traveling, the busy, the visually impaired, the bedridden. His novels have changed my life. I want them to change the lives of others as well.

For more details, read Bryan's blog post or see the funding page on Tilt. It works similar to Kickstarter in that no one is charged unless the full amount is reached. The goal is $2,000 to produce Song of the Ovulum (CotB book 1), with the potential to raise $8,000 to produce the whole series. As of today, the minimum goal is just under halfway funded. The end date is in thirteen days. Keep in mind that pledge amounts are in USD.

If the goal is reached, pledgers will receive prizes based on the amount they donated. (Hint hint, wink wink!)

I hope you'll consider joining me in pledging to this project! Every bit counts. If nothing else, it would be great if you could share the Tilt link with friends and family, or on your various social media platforms. Together we can see all four CotB books produced!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

An Unfading Beauty

Ladies, this one's for you. (To any knights or squires who may be reading: no need to click away just yet. This describes the sort of lady worth pursuing. So read on.)

You should clothe yourself instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. (1 Peter 3:4)
This verse used to bother me. A gentle and quiet spirit? Oh dear. I am sometimes harsh and judgmental, abrasive rather than gentle. I am sometimes loud, more often in my thoughts than verbally, but still not exactly quiet all the time. Nor do I always want to be gentle and quiet. Such a woman sounds meek in the negative sense of the word. She sounds like a doormat. A woman of pastel watercolors and soft speech. A woman who bows her head and silently allows others to direct and correct and stomp all over her. (Please keep in mind that some of the aforementioned qualities, in proper quantities, are positive. Accepting direction is a good thing!)

But you understand what I mean, right? This verse seems to set an impossible standard. Even the most introverted among us would struggle with it.

Then I discovered the real meaning behind it.

A woman with a gentle and quiet spirit is strong. She is confident. She is secure in her identity, in a Love eternal that defines her value. It is this peaceful strength glowing in the heart of a woman of God that overflows in gentleness. This woman radiates beauty.

She does not have to brashly force her way into the limelight. She does not have to spurn men to feel valued as a woman. She does not have to use hurtful sarcasm to feel important or accepted. She is not searching desperately for love. She already has it. She is secure and steadfast. She knows exactly who she is.

She is precious to the Lord.

A woman who knows that, truly knows in her heart--a woman who lays every insecurity down at the foot of the throne--has so much more room to extend that love toward others. She is gentle with them. She extends grace for their failings because she has accepted grace for hers.

And that part about being quiet? All you bubbly, talkative personalities can breathe easy. A quiet spirit is simply one at peace with herself and with God, not tormented by worry or fear or self-condemnation. Picture it like a glassy sea undisturbed by wind. Nothing fazes this spirit; it is one that laughs without fear of the future.

This peaceful confidence, this strength, is so incredibly beautiful. And I can't say I'm there yet. But I am on the journey. Will you join me?

To close, I'm taking a brief detour into country music, which my workplace subjects me to on a daily basis. (Somebody save me!) One of the few songs I actually like has some lyrics that fit today.

So your confidence is quiet
To them quiet looks like weakness
But you don't have to fight it
'Cause you're strong enough to win without a war
-Hunter Hayes, Invisible

There will be times when your gentle and quiet spirit may be perceived negatively. When you refuse to engage in an acidic conversation, or don't get riled up over an issue like everyone else is doing, they may think you don't care. They may think you are weak. But time will reveal the truth. Besides, what they think doesn't matter. Only what God thinks.

He says you are beloved.

And you are beautiful.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

I'm beginning to think your debts are going to cost you more than your life.

I swapped writing dares/prompts with my brother many moons ago. What I gave him turned into a six-page sci-fi thing. (Neither of us knows how to write something short, apparently.)

Later on, he gave me a dare in the form of a piece of dialogue. I didn't have time to use it then, but I finally sat down and splattered a scene across the page this week.

As is often the case with writing prompts, the idea ran away in my imagination to happily sequester itself in my brain's File of Future Novels. As if I didn't have enough to write already! The Brightest Thread, my four-book fantasy work-in-progress, other ideas that can claim more seniority in my File of Future Novels than this little dare, etc. Anyhow. The first line is my brother's; the rest is what followed.

“I’m beginning to think your debts are going to cost you more than your life.”
I paused, playing card balanced between my index and middle fingers, and stared across the tunnel at Shin. He stared back, almond eyes burning dark the way they always did when he tried to sway me. I broke the gaze and laughed long and loud. The sound rattled down the metal-ribbed tunnel, a hollow noise.
Hollow like me.
“You’re just now catching on?” I chuckled. “My debts are such that I could not repay them with a hundred lives.”
Shin folded his leather-clad arms and raised his chin, as if waiting for me to admit my foolishness or produce a brilliant plan to correct it.
In contrast, I slouched lower against the tunnel’s curved wall opposite him, and turned my attention back to the playing card, a king of spades. It flipped back and forth crisply between my fingers. For a moment the only sound was the greyish stream of water running down the middle of the tunnel to some far-off drain.
“Kai, you have but one life like the rest of us. Or have you forgotten?” Shin’s burning eyes cracked his calm demeanor like lava welling up through deep crevices to split the earth. He jabbed a finger in my direction. “And if you don’t do something to pull that life out of the gutter, you’re going to drown and drag all of us with you!”
I folded the card in thirds. “Relax, Shin. You say my debts will cost more than my life, and I agree.” Quickly, I tore a small section out, then paused to grin wickedly. “It will cost me the kingdom.”
Shin’s hands fell to his sides. “You mean to say that after all you’re doing—dishonorably, I might add!—to reclaim your throne, you’re just going to parcel up the kingdom to satisfy your debts the minute you take the crown? You’ll gain nothing.”
“That’s exactly what I’ll do.”
“Thunder smite you, Kai!” Shin turned away and smacked a fist against the wall. The echoing sound was denser than my laugh—it rang with substance.
“And you, my friend, will help me do it.”
Shin cursed.
I stood, brushed grit off my pants, and walked down the tunnel, leaving the torn card on the ground.
“Where are you going?” Shin shouted after me.
I chose not to answer. He would follow eventually. He would see things my way, and then we could go about assembling the resources I’d stirred up over the last eight months. If we moved fast enough, I just might have something to appease the Guild when they came knocking at my door. If not . . . well, Shin was right. What I owed was more than I could pay, even if I were to spill every drop of blood in my veins. Next time the Guild came collecting, I wouldn’t be able to talk my way out.
Too many borrowed coins rode on my shoulders, too many favors, too many lives.
I chanced a peek over my shoulder and smiled. Shin stood in the trickle of water in the middle of the tunnel. He stood perfectly still, staring at something in his hand—the card I’d left.
The card with a torn hole where the king of spade’s face should have been.
I clenched the ripped out face in my own hand. It was time to take my rightful place. Thunder smite me if I failed to do so.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Sandpaper Days

The days when you are not where you want to be.

The days of monotony, of the same routine over and over and over again.

The days of chaos, where nothing is tied down and everything whips in a whirlwind around you.

The long days full of long hours, but never enough time.

The days of hard work, of aching muscles and aching mind and aching heart.

The days of bleary eyes blinking at too many pages, of weary hands wiping down too many tables, of crammed brains stuffing too many things inside.

The days that grate, rubbing you all the wrong ways until your fur stands on end and you know that one more scrape will set you off hissing at the world. Slowly wound tighter and tighter, the pressure builds by slight degrees and if today could be that exhale you're desperate for, it would be just in time.

These are the sandpaper days.

They are hard. Not in a fiery trial kind of way, when the world crashes down around your ears and you scream for help. No. These days, if doled out one at a time, would be quite bearable. But there are just so many of them, and in numbers they are strong. They stretch and pull and drain, and if you would be honest with yourself, you might admit to being weary in well doing.

I'm here to tell you "press on." I'm here to say that these days are shaping you, refining you, smoothing your rough grain. And they do not last forever. This is a season, and as all seasons do, it will pass.

I'm here to challenge you to embrace it. It may feel like hugging a cactus, but these days are meant to be utilized. If you give in to the weariness, you only lengthen the season. Decide. Decide you are going to learn what you can here, do the best that you can, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. If you don't, you may walk around and around this mountain countless times throughout your life and never get over it.

I know. Oh, I know you want nothing more than to collapse and not move for a week, but press on, dear heart.

When your strength fails, there is a Strong One from which to draw. A Steady One on which to lean. He is with you in the midst of your sandpaper days.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Unraveling a Mess of Threads

Alternate Title: How I Survived the Editing Axe
As many of you may know, my writing time over the past couple months has been all-consumed by editing The Brightest Thread, my Five Magic Spindles entry. (You can learn more about the contest HERE. I've also posted snippets, as well as featured my heroine and villainess for Beautiful People.)
But I've yet to regale you with how the actual process went, aside from brief mentions here and there.

First things first: I finished!!!!! At long last, fueled by sheer grit and determination and Two Steps From Hell music (pardon the name), I cut my entry down to exactly 20,000 words. Excuse me while I collapse in relief. Actually no, I can't collapse. I have a post to share with you. Ahem.

I could go into all kinds of detail about how I finally came up with the idea for the story, how I read the Grimm and Perault originals, how I considered various genres before circling back to fantasy . . . But that would take too long. And if there's one thing this contest has taught me, it's conciseness.

So we'll skip the beginning stages of my writing process, and simply say that I decided to pants this thing (as in, write by the seat of my pants, with little to no plan), which is not my usual method. What an adventure! Half the time I hadn't a clue where things were going, and the other half of the time, I had only the most basic directions to follow.

Maybe that's why the first draft ended up at 29,934 words. A huge problem, considering that the contest rules state 20k is the limit.

I should've seen it coming. My first chapter was 3k. THREE THOUSAND WORDS. Practically a seventh of the story! By the time Prince Hadrian entered the scene, I was halfway to the word limit. By the time he was anywhere close to rescuing Luci, my goodness, I had long since waved goodbye to 20k.

About two months after starting, I finished the first draft in a rush of glory and panic, ecstatic over the story I'd just unspooled . . . and freaking out over the task before me. How in the world could I amputate a third of the story? How would the tale survive? How would I survive?

I let my obese novella sit for a week and half, during which time I bemoaned my existence and wished I could pluck Aleida's wand from the pages and use it to increase the word limit. Even 25k would be a relief!

But alas, it was not to be. And my complaining, which I'm sorry to say continued into the editing process, did nothing to help. Heh. Let that be a lesson to all of you!

Anyway, on September 8th, I sat down at my desk, opened the document, steeled myself, and commenced editing.

Now, here is another lesson. Do not try editing anything before reading over it first. Yes, you just wrote the thing. Yes, those words came from your brain. But you do not know them that well. You have been busy planting trees, but before you can prune them you must step back and see the forest, the big picture. I know this. A read-over has always been my first pre-editing step. Until The Brightest Thread. And I can't for the life of me figure out why I even dreamed of skipping this step. Things may have gone more smoothly if I hadn't.

So as I said, I jumped right into editing with high ambitions. I hefted my sharpened axe and attacked chapter 1.

And snipped off a teensy tiny few hundred words. "Well," I said to myself. "That's because this first chapter includes so much important setup. Surely the following chapters carry more fluff I can cull."

Ha. Wrong.

In the name of conciseness again, I shall sum up that first miserable editing pass like this: my efforts only managed to get rid of about 3k words. Oh joy, oh bliss.

I then decided to lay down that ineffective axe and read over my existing material, something I should have done in the first place. Getting a bird's-eye view of the story was helpful, but my next pass was still hard. I worked on it in a nonlinear fashion, combing over and over and over certain parts that I absolutely knew had the potential to shrink. I skipped from one spot to the other, targeting the easiest areas first and working my way to the grit-my-teeth-and-sacrifice-the-gorgeous-words areas. And when I thought I'd trimmed off all I could, I went back and shaved off more.

My techniques? Why, I'm so glad you asked! See, I'm not just rambling on about myself here. I really do want to offer you some nuggets of wisdom so that you have some tools next time your work falls under the knife.

  • Streamline. Streamline everything. Get that conversation right to the point. Put the characters where they need to be so that you don't spend paragraphs moving them there. Every single scene must carry its weight.
  • Speaking of conversations (ha, see what I did there? No? Just me? Okay, never mind) . . . Ahem. Speaking of conversations, take a giant machete to your dialogue. Brevity is the soul of wit. Your dialogue might sparkle. It might amuse. It might snap with fiery spirit. But if it's not serving to move the story along, it's baggage. You can also use less speaker tags in favor of better action beats if that helps.
  • Attack the descriptions. You'd be surprised how many blanks a reader will fill in his or her imagination. Instead of spending a long paragraph describing the weather or a room or a person, pick one description that will pack a punch. Choose the most vivid, or the most necessary. All else must go.
  • Make a list of your scenes if you haven't already. Having every piece of the story laid out made it much easier to see what was on the table, like having a map on which to mark out a battle plan. I even went so far as to write down the purpose of each scene. This helped me center each one around it's reason for existence, thus trimming extra fluff.
  • Minor characters. Which ones are actually necessary? I needed that guard because he provided an important revelation for Luci, my heroine. But I didn't need that oblivious elderly maid. She no longer exists. Poor Meris. Or another example: I needed at least one minor character to illustrate an important change in Luci's circumstances, but the scene held two or three. I shortened the laughs (it was an amusing scene, and one of my favorites) by keeping it down to one minor character. You can also combine characters if possible. I did this once.
  • Subplots. Again, what can you afford to cut? Yes, they may be delicious twists, but if you can simplify or get rid of them, it goes a long way. I sacrificed at least one subplot concerning the villainess.
  • Enter your scene late and leave it early. Does the scene take half a page to get to the meat, the really interesting part? Start right there. Forget the intro. And make sure you end off sooner rather than later, at a place that will make the reader want to keep going. This piece of advice was huge for me!
  • Look for unnecessary words and banish them to the abyss. There's nothing wrong with adverbs, but when every word counts, a punchier verb is often the better choice. "Whispered" is shorter than "said softly." "Trembling" is shorter than "nervously twitching." I Googled lists of unnecessary words and searched my manuscript for them. I was able to sluice off hundreds in one afternoon. Some examples of unneeded words or phrases are: could, start/started to, began/began to, that, then, somewhat, somehow, really, completely, very, say, all, just.

Some of this I simply realized myself. The point about starting late and leaving early I picked up from an article on Go Teen Writers. The entire post was helpful. And a couple more were given me by Rachel Heffington @ The Inkpen Authoress. (I discovered that her entry for Five Glass Slippers two years ago had been about as oversized as mine to begin with . . . yet she managed to trim it down, AND she won a place in the collection. Inspired by her success, I emailed her asking for advice, which she graciously offered. The advice about dialogue and description were largely from her.)

Because graphs are fun, and because graphs relating to wordcount data are even more fun, I made some!

This one displays my first draft wordcount as it went up to almost 30k.

And this one displays my cutting progress, as I shaved 10k excess down to zero. It was pretty intense at the end there. The last week or two, on every spare day or half-day off, I holed up in my room to work on cutting. Some days I put in as many hours as a full shift at work, emerging bleary eyed to update my family on progress.

I suppose that saying I went at it with an axe is inaccurate, because as hard as I tried to cut away entire scenes . . . I guess I'm too good at pacing? Most of the scenes were actually necessary. And trust me, I reassessed and reassessed many times to be sure. So I compressed like crazy. I think I vacuum-packed the story. I didn't hack; I whittled. Oh, and I wasn't just cutting: I edited too. Some of the corrections required adding words rather than subtracting.

Now I hope that what's left is a pithy story, rich despite its brevity--not a sack of story bones with no meat left on them. I really hope I haven't sucked it dry.

You can see how crazy the final sprint was: on October 26th, I started with 899 excess words remaining, and shrank it 54 excess words. Only 54! I would've wrapped it up right then and there, but at that point it was late, and I needed to sleep for work the next day. Oh, did that bite! I wanted so badly to be done. But I woke up early and managed to finish before heading out. Woohoo!

And now . . . Now the cutting is finished. I succeeded. I can hardly believe it. Every other step of the way was full of doubt. I even considered not entering the contest at all, for the sake of preserving my story. But I still have the old drafts, and if I don't win this year, I'll be more than happy to re-expand The Brightest Thread. There's so much I didn't get to explore, even in the chubby first draft.

For now, though, all that's left is to read it over a few times to make sure it's polished to the best of my ability, and then it gets sent to the judges!

But questers! My faithful blogglings! I FINISHED! Hallelujah!

And you have finished reading this lengthy post. So much for being concise, eh? Go on: share your own tips for shrinking stories. I'd love to hear them!