Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Writing 623 Words

I'm not going to lie: When I signed up for A Twist of Noir's 600-700 challenge, I was nervous. I'm terrible at writing to prompts or from a given scenario--or, for that matter, to a specific word count. I don't know why. I'm not one of these "Oh, it totally kills my muse" type of writers. It's just not how I roll.

So I was ecstatic when a couple of days after I signed on I was able to bang out a flash idea that--without any attempt to edit--was 630 words. Awesome! Chop out a few adjectives and there ya go.

But it had major problems. Had to put it on the back burner.

This is about when I started to panic. I threw around a couple of other ideas that never even made it to the page.

Then I had a crafty idea. The first crime fiction piece I'd ever written (first short story since I was in high school, actually) was a total mess. It was this 6,000-word monstrosity about this loser who's addicted to swiping mundane shit off store shelves. It had some interesting characters, nice turns of phrase, blah blah blah, but there were like five plotlines.

But it did have this opening scene that I really liked. So I decided to hack that off, make some changes. And, to my surprise, it wasn't half bad, and it was about 700 words. Sent it out to the good people at Flasher's Dozen and Crimeficwriters, who made it way better. And now, to my delight, it's found a home at ATON. (By the way, will be writing more on this in the future, but this 600-700 challenge is fascinating. Loving it--to me, it's the core of ATON--fast, violent, and dark crime fiction.)

So, anyone else writing in the series have stories to share about how they hit their magic number? How about writing with restrictions? Does it work for you?


  1. I started small-6 sentences, Flashshot (100 words) - and slowly wrote bigger stuff but I like writing the short stuff.

  2. Great post- When Chris accepted me for the 600 - 700, I had a story in mind, which I was going to go with. At the same time, I really wanted to write something for the TKnC Halloween themed story. In an oh shit, moment the story for ATON wasn't going to make the 622 (the way I wanted to tell it needed about 1000 words), so I changed gears.

    I am working on a second novel, but was really needing a better opening chapter, so I decided to write it with the intention of being able to use it for ATON as well.

    In the end, the orignal idea for ATON, got published on TKnC as "Charles in Charge" and "Crank Shot" made it to ATON, and will be the opening chapter for my novel "Sissy Murphy". All this went down in about one weeks time, and it was super stressful, but I loved every minute of it.

  3. there's that old addage that no writing is wasted. earlier this week i watched a great interview that Keith Rawson did with Hilary Davidson. she mentioned that The Damage Done came from an idea she'd had years ago, that it had lodged like a splinter in her brain - i really like that analogy. you may have lost 5000 words along the way, but the 600 or so you came up with the other day were mighty fine.

  4. When Christopher sent out the call for volunteers I emailed him with "sure, I'm in. You pick the word count." He shot back "okay. 645." Edit, edit, edit, BANG! 645 on the button. Easy huh? Yeah, until a couple of weeks ago Christopher mentioned that some of the word counts weren't coming out on the money. So, I checked mine (this is about two weeks after Christopher mentioned the word count thing)
    Hm. 650. PANIC! Then, wait a minute, take the title and byline -- including the dash -- out and COOL! 646! One word. Piece of cake. Yeah, sure. Took me about an hour to kick one stinking word out of the piece. That's why the stuff is addicting. Every word is a challenge. That's sport.

  5. Wow--great responses, guys. Glad to see I wasn't the only one who had trouble hitting that number! And Nigel--I'd much much rather have 600 good words than 5000 mediocre ones.