Which 400 words would you delete?

deleteWriter’s Digest is holding their annual competition, and a friend forwarded me the info for it.

I always have mixed feelings about contests; they’re hailed as a great way for new talent to break into a market, but that’s only true if you win. And I cannot imagine that contests with cash prizes get fewer submissions than the magazines I submit to. Then there’s the entry fee to consider; submitting work for publication to a magazine only costs me postage. The WD contest charges $20 for the first entry and $15 for each additional entry. That’s quite a chunk of change just to have someone look at your story, and then (in all likelihood) discard it.

I haven’t yet decided to enter, but the contest rules create an interesting dilemma. The word limit for genre short stories (like science fiction) is 4,000. According to the rules, stories that are 4,001 words will be disqualified.

Perfect Justice in its most recent draft is over 4,400 words. And already I have feared that it didn’t provide quite enough character development, that the plot wasn’t intricate enough, etc. But leaving aside the question of possible improvements, which 400 words are non-essential to the story? Do I go find 400 adjectives and conjuctions I can cut? Or whole scentences? Or a whole scene?

What would you do?

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  • Mr. Snuggles

    How long do you have to cut the words? If it’s a week, I could see it being trouble. But if there is plenty of time, I say go for it.

  • Jason R. Peters

    I think the final submission deadline is in early June, so it certainly isn’t like there’s some huge rush.

    The bigger question is in a story fit pretty tightly together (as I think PJ is), what CAN you even cut? My guess is one of the lab scenes could go without too much disruption to the story, but if that scene had dialog explaining some key points of the software, obviously cutting it costs the story something.

    And one hour or one year makes no difference if all parts look essential. But maybe they aren’t essential. The fundamental problem of being a writer is that I am constantly too close to the work to see things clearly.

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