When I first started writing, I had trouble writing a story with a specific word count. I’d want to keep making the action move forward or describing the world I’d developed or putting more description and development into my characters. In other words, I would meander through my writing. 🙂 Now, that’s fine for the first draft of a novel or a short story. But then, I would need to enter the editing process, and I wasn’t sure of the best way to do that. So today, I thought I would describe the process I’ve been learning in my class about how to write a short story and about making word count. Then, I’ll post the story I wrote for my class for your reading enjoyment.
The first thing I learned was to make each word count whether it was a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, or any other part of speech. If one word could say what I wanted it to write better than two or three, it was all the better for my writing. The trouble I ran into was which words to use so I put a lot of thought into it while I was writing the first draft of my story and while I was editing it. It was a good process for me to learn–to make my story truly say what I wanted it to say and to make it “lean and mean” as some of my author friends would say.
The second thing I learned wasn’t necessarily from my class, or maybe it was something mentioned, but something I had already decided to try. I decided to write my short story about a moment in time. If the moment wasn’t a long-lasting moment, then it would be more likely I would hit the word count I needed to hit. It was interesting theory. I started writing, and the moment in my head started appearing on paper. I used the best words I could think of for each part fully describing the moment, but trying to be economical with them as well.
Did I hit my word count? No, I didn’t, and that brings me to the next thing I learned. I learned about editing and how it was supposed to work. When I finished the first draft of my piece, it was about ninety words more than I needed. I had been careful about my word usage, but my story wasn’t where it needed to be. This was where the editing came in. I was able to go back through my story and find more words I didn’t need or find a better way to state something with fewer words. I found I understood the process better after going through it this time for some reason. My story felt stronger, and I felt like it conveyed what I wanted it to say. I know this knowledge will help me as I begin to edit longer pieces and as I submit my work for possible publication.
Here is my story, “Belonging”, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
Crash! Clank! Melissa hung her head in shame. This was the second time this week her lunch had ended up on the floor. The cafeteria workers ran to clean up the mess, and she was sure she heard the Spanish word for clumsy in there. She replied in kind. “No soy terpe. Alguien me empujo.” A torrent of Spanish came from the worker.
After taking the sandwich thrust at her by the manager, she turned to go to her table. She gazed at the crowd. There was no indication of who had pushed her, but two of the cheerleader brats were hiding their faces behind their hands. Emily saw her staring and raised her hand in salute. “Enjoy your sandwich, geek girl!”
Knowing that Emily had failed their Spanish test earlier, Melissa yelled, “te odio, perra!” She walked away from the crowd. After sitting down at a table in the corner, Melissa gave rein to her churning thoughts. ‘I hate this place. I wish we had never left Peru.’ Her parents had been teachers at the international school in Lima, and she had loved her life. She had been accepted there. But now they were back in the United States, and she had to go to this stupid school.
“Excuse me, young lady.” Melissa looked up to see one of the janitors sweeping near her table. “I like your hair.”
“You do?” She cradled the magenta ends of her hair. “It’s inspired by Gamora on Guardians of the Galaxy. She’s so kick-ass.” She gazed at the long table with the cheerleaders and football players. “And she wouldn’t let Emily push her around either.”
The janitor followed her gaze. “Don’t worry about her. She’s gonna get what’s coming.” He stuck out his hand. “Name’s Oscar. What’s yours?”
“Melissa.” She shook his hand. It was nice to feel comfortable with someone. “What do you mean?”
Melissa saw the cheerleading coach walk up to the long table. The coach spoke to Emily. “Due to your score on the Spanish test today, you are on probation. Gotta get those grades up, Emily.”
Emily screeched. “You can’t do that, Coach!” She tossed her hair. “I’m a cheerleader.”
The coach spoke again. “Yes, I can. You need to listen. Cheerleading isn’t everything.”
“But it is!” She burst into tears as the coach walked off.”
Melissa grinned. “You were right, Oscar. She did get what was coming.”
“Keep watching,” said Oscar.
At the table, the football captain was speaking. “You have to move.”
“Why?” asked Emily.
“You made the rule. Only cheerleaders and football players can sit at this table.” He gestured to another table. “Move along.”
Melissa wasn’t able to contain her laughter. “Best day yet at this school.” She looked back at Oscar who had a slight disapproving look on his face. “Sorry.”
“I need to get back to work,” said Oscar. “Let me tell you something. You are worth ten of those girls, even with your magenta hair. And…you’re gonna find your tribe. In fact, I think you and Natasha would get along just fine.” He motioned to the door where a red-haired girl had come in. “Ask her to eat with you.”
Melissa recognized the girl from her math class. “I will, Oscar. Thanks.” She turned back, and he had disappeared. “Huh? That was weird.” She watched Natasha go through the line and motioned her over to the table. As they both sat down to eat, Melissa realized she might have a chance to belong in her new school after all. She looked up. “Thank you, Oscar.”