… to go.
I’ve gotten through almost 14,500 words of revision on Jjangguk, which is encouraging, since it’s only a 20,500 word story as it is. Of course, I still have an overall goal of getting it down to 15,000. This means reconciling myself to cutting things that I absolutely love.
Mind you, a very well-regarded Canadian writer, Guy Vanderhaeghe, once said to us in class, “Whatever you are most proud of in your story? Cut it. Anything you love and think is great… cut it.” That’s not always the best thing to do, but it’s true that often, the bits you’re most attached to are the ones that get in the way. This is a well-known enough observation in creative writing circles, of course: “Murder your darlings” is a saying specifically because it’s true that you have to do this sometimes. But it’s hard to do it, even when you know so, and even when you’ve finally started to learn how to do it and seen the benefits.
Jjangguk’s so big a story that it’s hard to know how much to cut. Pacing’s different in a novella from how it is in a novel or a short story, and there’s a certain degree of tangentiality that’s possible in a fruitful way. But still, the excisions will have to come, even if a lot of the weight-loss comes from tightening the belt and making the wording and content of each scene more economical. I can cut things so they’re shorter — and I have been doing that, without losing much of the story — but the hard bit is approaching, in my next pass, because then I’ll have to stop trying to preserve the story as it is, and start once again lopping bits and pieces off like useless, unwanted limbs. It’s hard, and it will take all my skill to preserve the tone and feeling and atmosphere and all the little important tensions, while still making the story the length I want. Then again, if and when I do finally pull it off, the story will be all the stronger for it.
But for now, a little trimming of me is in order. Off I go, up the mountain with my camera. I think I have a good forty minutes of light and it’s easy to hike down in the dark. Then I’ll finally make that salad I’ve been craving all day.
Then, it’s an evening of grading ahead of me, and some more reading about the history of blackface minstrelsy, if I have the time.