Adding and Subtracting

Outtakes 190

Adding and Subtracting

by Cait Collins


As a writer, I try to get the most bang for the buck with my stories. For example, can I turn a novel into a screenplay? Or could I rework a short story into a novel? No matter what I decide to do, I run into roadblocks, tar pits, and briar patches. Truthfully, I can’t decide if it’s easier to expand a work, or cut it back. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I had a novella. I really liked what I had written. The characters were multi-dimensional and interesting. Secondary characters added spice to the story. I had a good setting with my small Texas town. Above all, I liked my storyline. A rich man tries to destroy a young woman and her family because he can. Now the lady is back and out for justice. I ran the idea by an agent and he replied, “I can’t sell this as a novella, but you have enough plot twists to make it a novel.”

Okay, I could do a novel. All I needed was another 300 pages and I had to write the additional material while maintaining the integrity of the story. Well, I wrote it; 550 pages of carefully plotted revenge. Now it’s too long and I have to cut about 150 pages; which means I will have to delete scenes I really like.

On the other hand, I have a short story that is too long for a call for submissions. But how do I cut it back to 350-400 words without destroying the emotional impact of the piece?

At some point, a writer realizes part of the craft is either adding scenes or subtracting words. We balance the plot while increasing dialogue or deleting adjectives and adverbs. And sometimes we just can’t make the math work, so we scrap the revisions and start over. I guess I never realized how important mathematics would be for professional writers.

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