This morning I submitted a 4991 word manuscript to an open call for a mystery/crime anthology set in a specific regional area. I’m not sure what my chances of getting in are since (1) open calls are often highly competitive, (2) judging is subjective and (3) my work skews toward darker subjects than most general mystery stories. Like a lot of my stories, I overwrite my first draft. To be fair when I was writing the story, I wasn’t thinking of the anthology specifically. I was stuck editing a WIP and really wanted to get this other story out of my head. While writing I used the anthology’s geographical area, perhaps subconsciously, but it also fit my character’s natural movements.
The first draft was over 6000 words and the second came out to 7742. I like the second draft. A lot. It follows a character who seems to repeatedly makes poor decisions before meeting a person who changes everything. (Sorry I’m keeping the story vague on the off-off-off chance that a judge might read this post.) The relationship between the two characters and consequences of the protagonist’s past become the central plot. At the end of the story I added a final twist to explain what really happened in the opening scenes preceding the main plot. The problem is that the anthology called for a maximum of 5000 words. That meant a 35% reduction or about 10½ pages out of a 29 page document.
Part of me didn’t want to submit to the anthology so I could keep the overall theme and the twist in the story. The story, however, had all of the elements that the anthology wanted and it would be cool to have a story in that collection. Finding publishers for stories can be difficult, even with solid stories. So I asked my writing group (Writing Wranglers and Warrior’s own Sarah Chen and Stephen Buehler) to help me out. I can’t stress how important it is to have another set of critical eyes on a project. They both came up with important cuts. While painful, the cuts left the integrity of the plot and the main characters’ relationship intact. It is now a straight ahead love/revenge/dealing-with-past-demons story.
Which leads me to wonder if the lean version gets published, what should I do with the bigger version with a big twist ending? Usually scenes I’ve cut out of other stories are never seen again. Often that is for the best. (For example my story “How I Got Into The Navy” was supposed to happen over two decades, but a character’s surprise reaction caused the story to end sharply.) The story I submitted this morning was sparked by a concept that is currently absent from the story. While I could apply the concept to a different story, it seems like I would be walking down the same road. I’d love to publish the longer version of the story with the caveat that a shorter version exists in the world.
Something like this happens with excerpts from novels that are made into short stories. Reading Patricia Abbott’s CONCRETE ANGEL this year, I noticed two scenes that I had already read as short stories in other publications. I need to ask her if there are more stories from the novel out in the world. On the other side, S.W. Lauden expanded a short story for his recent book CROSSWISE and I did the same with my novella LOST IN CLOVER. The original short story submission, “Eggnog,” led to both a story rejection and a contract for a novella expanding on the life of Jeremy Roberts. While I could try to publish it, I don’t think I will since that short story is the end of the novella. So I’m obviously making distinctions about publishing variations of a story. If there is something new and strikingly different in a variation, then perhaps an argument could be made for publishing it.
In music and movies there are often extended versions sold as remixes, alternate versions or director’s cuts. While leaner can better a film (in my opinion Apocalypse Now beats Apocalypse Now Redux), other times harsh cuts can destroy a movie (like Once Upon A Time In America.) Also, I imagine, two versions of the same film can still be powerful. (I’ve seen two different cuts of Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil and I think they are both solid.)
So all that being said, I wonder if there would be a market for authors to show different versions of their story. As it is, writers struggle to get people to read… anything. Perhaps big name authors could pull in an audience interested in variations of a single work, but on the whole I imagine it would be a tough sell. A few years ago, I wrote a story with two different endings and it’s befuddle me as I’m not sure what I should do with it. The endings take the story in dramatically different directions. I’ve unsuccessfully looked to see if it were possible to have story published with both endings. I found one publication that did it a few years back, but they are no more.
Would you like to read different versions of the same story or should an artist stick to a single version and move on to the next project?
Travis Richardson has been a finalist for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in crime fiction publications such as Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, Jewish Noir, and All Due Respect. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter Ransom Notes, reviews Anton Chekhov short stories at http://www.chekhovshorts.com, and sometimes shoots a short movie. His novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record. www.tsrichardson.com
My short story “Quack and Dwight” in JEWISH NOIR is a finalist for a Derringer in the novelette category. The same story was a top ten finalist in Screencraft’s 2015 Short Story contest. You can read a copy of the story here.