Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

A year ago I started a short story for an annual crime fiction competition that closes in August. At the time I was feeling pretty burned out from finishing another project, and with only a few weeks until the closing date, I decided that to rush the piece would be a disservice to the characters I was building. I put it aside to mature for a while, determined that I would attempt to enter it this year.

For the past twelve months, I’ve kept the early paragraphs that I wrote unread in a folder on my laptop, and I’ve concentrated instead on adding details to the handwritten notes about characters, setting and plot, hoping to build a believable murder, in a convincing world, peopled by relatable characters.

Imagine my surprise when, with 5 weeks to go until this years’ competition closes, I reread my story’s opening to find that the actions and dialogue I’d written at the time bear little resemblance to the characters I’ve been building in the meantime. I’ve become quite close to my heroine now, and I don’t want to return her to the sappy weakling I’m afraid she was beginning to be. So how am I going to fix this?

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

‘Reduce’ any passages that don’t fit any more. With a 5000 word limit, I’m going to have to be pretty ruthless about this, but hopefully the story will be better for it.

‘Reuse’ whatever I can salvage. For example, I’m quite proud of the scene I wrote where someone almost passes out after discovering the body. This behaviour is no longer a good fit for the protagonist, but it’s not important that she finds the body, so I’m just going to have someone else do it.

‘Recycle’ anything that I’m proud of but can’t salvage for this story. Those sections will be filed in my ‘slush pile’, so maybe one day I’ll come across them again and find a story that I can fit them into.

It looks like I have a lot of work ahead of me…especially since in my plotting I’ve actually come up with two stories for the same main character. Wish me luck!

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