Author Dave vs. Story Bloat!

Holly’s super bad hair day story is way overdue for Kindle. And yet, I could not bring myself to push it out. Why?

It was fat. Bloated. Almost 7000 words! During the holidays, my nieces read my 1500 words Super Holly vs The Wicked Word Witch story. (These girls are smart, voracious readers.) They laughed. They liked it. Then my older niece read part of the bad hair day, and she pointed out bugs, and thought the ending was strange, and she once said, “Ew.”

In my opinion, the biggest bug is the bad hair day story got way too BIG over many months. Today, I re-outlined it from 13 action beats to 9. Then I cut, pasted, and edited. I cut out a lot:

  • Bennie the Rubber Cop (based on Law & Order’s Lennie Briscoe, who deserves a full story and should not compete with Lash the barber in this story).
  • The singing. That did not work. I could feel that as my older niece read.
  • The super comb. Too much of a god-in-the-machine thing. I substituted a wire brush and big scissors.
  • Probably I’ll cut the shampooing scene, but I still want to mention Holly’s love of strawberry shampoo.

I hope to be way under 5000 words when I am done. Small enough that I can pad this story out with another short story. I have several in the works. I want my short stories to be quick and fun, like gobbling a candy bar. Or in my case, two at a time for a buck?

I thought of story bloat after I saw the third installment of The Hobbit on New Year’s Eve. I liked it, but so much stuff was added to the original story! Sure, I like more of that cool and grand Christopher Lee! But it took Thorin FOREVER to change his mind, and what was with his silly hallucination stuff?

I also thought of Harlan Ellison: “To say more is to say less.” And Elmore Leonard: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

I thought of story bloat before today. I got serious about it today. I made good progress, and I should have a tighter and happier story when I am done. It can feel good to cut.

P.S. I agree with my friend Frank about the Hobbit part 3: the battle scenes were consuming (if a bit long), Smaug was fearsome, and anxiety was high. I will want Holly and Cal to fight dragons in a later novel. Smaug was not bloated, he was huge in the book. My dragons will need to be small enough that when they swallow a man (or a superheroine, hint hint) you can see the lump go down its gullet, yet large enough that you can saddle and ride one, and if you are fishing around for a body in the dragon’s digestive-juice-filled belly (with an air pocket at the top), it will take several scary moments to find the body. Yeah, I am writing ahead again, but this will be a GREAT scene.

P.P.S. When I said today, I meant January 1.

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