Word Count

Travis Richardson_5x7_300dpi (1) by Travis Richardson

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.

antique-writing-desk

Image of desk with two stacks of paper because I needed a photo. 🙂

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?

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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.

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18 Responses to Word Count

  1. I belong to a group of fiction writers who meet each week to critique each others’ work. One or two participants think it necessary to re-post a piece to the list reflecting changes suggested by others in the group. I don’t have the time or inclination to read more than one version of a particular story so would prefer just the initial version and then to move on. Good luck with your piece.

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    • Travis says:

      Thank you Abbie,

      I agree that time is more difficult than ever to manage time. Sometimes in our writing group, we might suggest a change and the writer makes a change. We see it again and then suggest the original version might be better. Some times it take a few tries to get a scene right. I’m always trying different endings with the group I’m in.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gayle Irwin says:

    I’ve wondered the same at times, Travis. I’ve submitted to Chicken Soup and their word count is 1200 – another anthology I submitted to was 3000. I have another publication which only wants 800 words. So I choose, repurpose, edit, add and resubmit. I sometimes change the title as well as the slant/theme and use content cut from one submission and place it in the “new” story. Good luck with your endeavors!

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    • Travis says:

      Thank you Gayle. I like the idea of repurposing. I often make changes to meet the word count and leave it at that, but this story feels different… like it should have 2 lives.

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  3. Neva Bodin says:

    Interesting questions. In regards to two versions, I believe the book and movie “THe Horse Whisperer” both ended differently. I was totally disappointed in the movie as I read the book first. And usually the book is better I’ve found. But there are others who may like two different endings. And “repurposing” is an active practice. Good luck with your decisions and submissions!

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    • Travis says:

      Thank you Neva,

      Most adapted movies can’t touch the original book. Off hand, L.A. Confidential and Out Of Sight are two movies that equaled or bettered the source material.

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  4. Doris says:

    I love different versions of stories. I know of authors who were published with one publisher, but when the rights reverted, they expanded and re-issued the stories. Mara Purl has done that with some of her work, and done well with it. You will lose nothing by trying, in my mind. Doris

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    • Travis says:

      Thank you Doris,

      I have felt that if I get the rights back to my novella “Keeping the Record,” I’d change a scene in the opening chapter. So true there is nothing to lose. Although different, I think Walt Whitman kept reissuing Leaves of Grass with multiple changes throughout his life.

      Travis

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  5. My noir novella Cleaning Up Finn that’s over 28,000 words started as a 5,000-word short story. I revised it over the years…changed it from a Maryland setting to a Long Beach setting. When I decided to turn it into a novella, I had no idea how it would end. I still love the original short story but doubt I can do anything with it now. Plus I’m ready to move on. I think if the main concept is removed from your revised story, what prompted you to write it in the first place, you can still use it elsewhere. It’s interesting you found a couple scenes in Concrete Angel (one of my favorites of last year) that you recognize from her short stories. I didn’t pick up on that at all!

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    • Travis says:

      Can’t wait for Finn to come out, Sarah!

      Yeah, I think it’s the main concept I want to use… and in the story I’ve written. To use the opening and ending that I had in another story with another character doing many of the same things in the shorter version seems more redundant than having an “extended” version of the shorter story. If that makes any sense.

      The two scenes I recognized from Concrete Angel was when the mother gets caught shoplifting in Wanamaker’s (Girl Trouble anthology) and the other was mother as a maid in the hotel and she’s talking to the creepy boyfriend. (Don’t remember where I saw that one before.)

      Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, I actually just read that story! I think it’s “Experience Preferred” or something like that. I just read it in an anthology, either Shotgun Honey’s Unloaded or Crime Factory. I’ve been reading so many anthologies, I’m getting them mixed up.

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  6. Travis,
    Great questions! At some point you’re going to publish or get published your short story collection. Perhaps that’s the place for the longer version. When I’ve made a story short – usually a short story to flash fiction I feel I’m done with the story and want to move on.
    Good luck with both versions.
    – Stephen

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    • Travis says:

      Hello Stephen,

      Yes, I’d love to have a short story collection come out. I’ve been putting them together this week to see how they flow. Tentative title is TO THE SOUTH AND WEST OF EVERYTHING ELSE.

      Thanks!

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  7. Very interesting post and questions Travis. I have read books with alternate endings (but no titles come to mind right now) and I enjoyed reading them. However, normally I would not want to revisit the same plot and characters in a shorter or longer version, I think. I do believe that repurposing, as Gayle says, is a great way to use parts of a work you might submit to another collection. Whatever it is you do, best of luck!

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  8. S J Brown says:

    While I admit I am sometimes disappointed in the ending of some books I don’t think the author should offer an alternative ending. I think you should choose the version you prefer and work on marketing that version. Using part of the work to create an alternative work is another story. I think that can be successfully done if each work can stand on it’s own. Rather than a copy of the original the second work should remind the reader of the first work and possible entice them to read or reread the original.

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  9. Mike Staton says:

    I agree with some… your longer version will eventually get published, perhaps with an anthology of only your stories. I think authors often end up with two versions of a story. The same with movies, the original movie and then the author’s cut that includes scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor. One time I was visiting a friend in Cleveland and we were watching one of the Lord of the Rings movies, the director’s cut. We were spending lots of time trying to figure out the added scenes.

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  10. Nancy Jardine says:

    I keep a dump folder for my WIP writing with the intention of maybe using it on my blog but that’s not yet happened. I think perhaps some people use such cuts on sites like Wattpad? I’ve always been wary of publishing my partial work on sites because that would be the works actual first publishing and the same text can’t be used in a novel later on. (or so i believe)

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  11. Wranglers says:

    I do not choose to read different versions of the same story. I have expanded a couple of my short stories into Novellas. I wish I had a writers group. Maybe once I get settled in, in FL, one will be close enough. Thanks for all the food for thought. Cher’ley

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