Revising a Long Short Story

I made an interesting discovery recently when I tried to turn a novella into a novel, then into a long, short story. Everyone knows that the market for novellas is pretty small, but I had written a story of 30,000 words that seemed just right. It's a story I've been trying to write for a long time (I'm into the third decade with this one) and I finally thought it was perfect (at least the length of it). But I also wanted to publish it, and I thought the chances were better with a novel of 60,000 words or greater, so I began to expand. Some of you are probably already thinking, "Dumb idea," and it was. I made it longer, but not better. I gave up at 35,000 words.

Then I got the opportunity to publish it as a very long short story, so I began to whittle. Twenty revisions later it's 32,000 words, and much better than either the original or the novel attempt.

So what I learned is the value of expansion, followed by contraction. Making the story longer meant adding more detail, and some of them were pretty good, and when I then began to shorten the story, only the very best was left. That sounds easier than it was. I probably cut 8,000 words during revisions, and added in more.

I know this is all a little incoherent, but let me summarize. I found that by first lengthening, then cutting a story the result was a tight, good story. A less positive lesson was that trying to lengthen a story leads to mostly fluff that should never have been added. It was more like padding, and I am so happy I cut it out.

Copyright 2016 by Philip Tate