Balancing plot – and word count

How the weeks fly when we are writing furiously. And I have been writing as furiously as I can, trying to increase my word count. Did I change my dog into a lion, as I said I would last week? No, of course not. I changed it into a bear instead. But more about that further on.

My goal is also to write short stories and enter them for competitions and publication. So I have written a story this week on the given theme of ‘vision’. What does this word conjure up for you? I have always struggled to write with someone else’s given theme in mind. Stories have usually emerged from my own experiences. So starting from a given word was difficult. However, I tried the spider diagram approach – it’s amazing what appears – eyes, reflections, mirrors, future, plans, goals….. All of these ideas can be woven into the theme of ‘vision’. So I have ended up with a story based around vision as mirrors.

I have also tried to take the advice of Ray Bradbury on writing short stories. In his view, such stories almost write themselves when their composition is completed in a single day – not the time span of the plot – but the writing itself. They have a ‘skin’ (his word) around them that comes from having been written within a tight time scale. I like this word – skin. After all, a short story, unlike a novel, is meant to portray a snapshot in time.

What then is a snapshot in time? How much time does a good short story seek to capture? An hour? Day? A few days? A week? A year? Does the answer lie in the word count? With a given limit of anything from 750 up to 2000 words within which to cover the whole plot, balancing word lengths is where the skill lies. We are often told that not a word must be wasted – so every word must earn its keep in a short story.

Back to word count. Can a 750 word story cover a whole year of plot length? Can a 2000 word story sustain a plot length of an hour? Thinking about these questions is helping me to consider my own short story. The last one I wrote, limited to 750 words, took place within a day. Another I have just drafted, up to 1000 words, takes place over a meal lasting about one hour or so. Much depends perhaps upon the type of story – whether action packed or emotional in content.

So as writers, we have to think about what will fit into a given word count – to avoid our story being either too shallow, with not enough content to make the story meaningful – or too deep, with too much story to fit into the timescale. This idea of word count also ties in with last week’s discussion of beginning, middle and end. A 1000 word story would surely need 250, 500 and 250 (roughly) for each component of the plot. Not much room for manoeuvre. I realise I’ve got carried away with the main title of this blog – changing the plot, but it is relevant.

Back to my fantasy novel. Why did I not follow my original plot plan and change the dog into a lion? Because I ended up going back and editing the first draft. Guess what! A better idea emerged through the editing process. Given that the dog in my story is called Bear, why not change him into its name? So I have. Result – in my view, a much stronger piece of plot than previously – while still conforming to the overall storyline. This is surely the purpose of editing: allowing new and improved ideas to build upon original ones.

Why am I telling you all this? Because talking about my own experiences with writing is helping me to become a better writer. After posting this blog I am going to go back and look at my word count – and check that my plot structure fits the BME proportions.

More on these fiction writing dilemmas next time. Over and out. Have a good writing week.

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