Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In Which I (Thought I) Edited Too Much

So I submitted a piece for the Cosmic Coincidence Contest put on by the awesome Simon and Carol. The goal was to write a flash fiction piece (under 1k) using some prompts Simon came up with off some cool writing dice his wifey had made him.

Straight up the prompts killed me. I kept coming up with ideas and then realized I was mixing up the prompt sets.


Anyway, I made myself submit (Twin harped at me, too) because I certainly wouldn't gain anything by not submitting.

But I almost didn't submit anything. I had 2 pieces, and I felt neither of them were my best work. I passed the 2 pieces to my writing group and Brother and Twin, and even though I liked the shorter, more "literary" piece, they all came back preferring the one about vampires.

So I submitted it and got on with my life. I even wrote a blog post ahead of time to discuss the flaws inherent in my story I was sure they'd laugh at.
(to be fair, Carol and Simon are super duper nice and I'm sure they would have never laughed.)

And then, on Wednesday, there was my story on both their blogs for all their wonderful followers to read.

So I freaked out. In a good way of course.

I've never had a story posted where people just say nice and good things about it. Usually I'm sending things out to be critiqued, so while there are always good things said there are also places that need work.

Having complete strangers say wonderful things (like they loved my voice - can you believe that?!) is a complete mind trip and confidence booster. Especially when I thought the piece was a bit sub par.

Apparently I was a little hard on the story and it was, in fact, the little piece that could.

Anyway, here's the story for anyone who wants to read it. Below I'll discuss the few things that I thought were irreparable flaws (though clearly, much of it must have been in my head)

Pulled the story down for revision and submission

Word Count = 999
Writing Prompts = sunny day, martinis, a snake

The basic story idea that I came up for this was "what if someone fed stray vampires instead of stray cats?" Which I still think is an awesome idea. I don't remember how or why I came up with it.

There are a couple of reasons why I wasn't ecstatic with Strays

One is that I think flash fiction works best as one specific scene. This one (and to be fair, the other one too, which is why I wasn't happy with that one either) has two scenes, the first one in the bar and the second one at her home.
I just don't think it's as strong as a piece that is one scene, but perhaps that's just my preference.

Also I felt that I had edited it too much. It started over 1600 words, so I had to cut over 600. The first 300 or so were good cuts, they made the piece stronger.
Originally the story had another character. Marcia was at the bar with her friend discussing the vampires and then she meets Jacob. I actually like that version a bit more, the dialogue seemed more authentic and it flowed better. But I had to cut her friend out in order to get the words down. Then I needed about another 100 words gone. At that point, I just cut where I could.

I was worried that I had lost much of my voice with the cuts and also that the first scene was too much of a talking head syndrome ("blah blah, here's information that's important to the story, blah blah").

It was the first time I felt I had edited a piece too much. But clearly, I may have been overreacting a bit.

On the plus side though, all the beta readers and quite a few of the contest readers thought Jacob was going to be a vampire. Which is good because that was what I originally had planned for the story, a sort of "you think this guy is the bad guy but SURPRISE he's not". I thought I failed epically at this and therefore stopped trying to make it that way, but I guess that worked to my advantage because it ended up being more subtle. Who knew?

It's funny. I thought this piece didn't have a chance in hell with this contest and I was wrong. And I thought my piece for the Natalie Whipple contest was a sure thing and it wasn't even an honorable mention.

Clearly my confidence and doubt is all mixed up.

I want to once again thank everyone who said such kind things here on my blog and over on Simon and Carol's blogs as well. It's amazing how one little positive comment is enough to spur someone ever onwards.

Does anyone else have an experience about editing too much?


Anne Gallagher said...

I loved that story. It was just so cooooollllll.

As for over-editing, I couldn't tell you. I know I edited the behoosis out of Masquerade and cut out some pretty cool stuff, nothing important, but to me, I wanted to keep it in, but I found if if doesn't move the story, plot or characters forward, take it out.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there's such a thing as overediting, but I feel it's hard to do in flash. In broad strokes, your story says what it needs to. I think another character would muddy it up too much.

As for the talking heads, it actually feels fairly natural, a conversation rather than an infodump. Are there things I might have done differently? Sure, but then it'd be in my voice rather than yours. And, as both Carol and I mentioned, it's the idea that makes this interesting. That's pretty much made of win.

Again, congratulations, good lady. Your prize will be in the mail this week. :)

Austin Gorton said...

Well, some of the people who have been in my life long enough to have been there when I started my first novel will tell you I've over-edited that, but I still maintain it's been less about editing an existing novel and more about the style and tone shifting from what it was originally, so it's almost been more like writing a whole 'nother novel.

Or I could just be making highfalutin excuses for over-editing...

Lizard said...

It's a great story Sarah!! Please don't let your confidence issues interfere with my one shot at a celebrity friend. I will be very peeved.

Southpaw said...

That was a fun story!

Unknown said...

I liked this a lot. And I didn't think Jacob was a vampire, but I thought he was trying to kill them off or something. Why was he so interested in Antonio, huh? Kept me guessing. Such a fascinating idea! Thanks for sharing :)

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I over edit sometimes. It's a fine line between subtle and your readers just missing the point. I also thought Jacob was going to be a vampire. I was pleasantly surprised. Loved the line about seeing the snake too late. Great story.

Sara {Rhapsody and Chaos} said...

I still love the story as much as I did the first two times I read it!!

Sarah Ahiers said...

Piedmont - this was the first story that i thought i took too far with the editing. i still kind of think that, but it needed to be under 1K. also your prize is in the mail

Simon - yeah i'm still tickled pink about the contest. and i have to agree that it is one of my more clever ideas, regardless of how i handled it

Teebore - i don't think you've over edited your novel. I think you've been editing it a long time, but i don't think you've ever lost your voice, etc

Lizard - Ha! look at you showing up here! I don't know if "celebrity" is correct, but i'll take it. ((hugs))

Southpaw - thanks!

Achinghope - thanks! And your prize is in the mail

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That was a wonderful surprise! We all need a little confirmation now and then, huh?

Tiffany Neal said...

I loved the story! Great work! I can't wait to see more of yours! :)

Sarah Ahiers said...

Barbara - thanks! I hope now that i've done it, i'll know how not to do it in the future. I think naturally i stop editing before i reach a bad point

Sara - thanks!

Alex - the surprise was so utterly shocking i think i experienced some time loss. Or maybe i was abducted by aliens

Tiffany - thanks! And thanks for stopping by

sarahjayne smythe said...

I still really like this after multiple readings. It's an excellent piece.

And yes, I do think you can over-edit. I think I've done so on multiple occasions. :)

Sarah Ahiers said...

Sarahjayne - thanks. since you have done so on multiple occasions, have you ever been able to "reverse edit" them?

dolorah said...

Yeah, when she "invited" Jacob to her home and wrote down her address, I mentally commended "Antonio" for coming up with a unique line to get inside. Really, you had me going. Right up to the point when it was actually Antonio. And still, I half expected him to reveal himself as the clever "Jacob".

And the set up for it to be "Antonio" at the door instead of Jacob was excellent. I loved the way Jacob and Marcia casually discussed the vampires as if they were any normal "strays" problem.

To be fair to your one scene bias: it could be thought that the first part at the bar was the scene set up (setting, plot, character development), and then continued on to her getting ready for Jacob's visit (middle) and the conclusion (climax) when the visitor turned out to be the old vamp instead of the trusted friend.

I agree that sometimes an author's anxiety can cause them to over edit, but in this case, I think you were dead on. There was nothing I felt that was missing or need clarifying, and the end felt complete. It had all the characters it needed. The agony you put into this piece paid off.

Excellent voice, character development, forward motion on the plot.

I couldn't have stopped reading if my house had blown up around me. Well, unless it cut the power to my computer; then I'd be really pissed.

Thanks for sharing it.


Hannah said...

I feel as if I over edit but then I've heard "others" say that if you can still find things to change, then you aren't finished.

@Teebore- I agree, I don't think your editing has changed your voice or overall theme...

Sarah Ahiers said...

Donna - thanks - and to be fair i've read some fantastic multi scene flash.

Palindrome - i don't think i've ever seen you over edit. For this piece i really didn't think there was anything else i could cut out. It took me over 30 minutes just to cut the last 20 words

Hannah said...

LOL, I dont think you've seen me edit! I really just edit too soon and dont get anywhere.

Sarah Ahiers said...

palindrome - true true, i haven't. But how can you not get anywhere? editing, in its nature, gets you somewhere

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