Writing Homework #4: Drabbles and Self-Editing Practice

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For this assignment, you don’t need to pull any books from your shelves.

You need a drabble prompt, a word-counting app, and about fifteen minutes.

(Feel free to use other sources for either, those are suggestions. I do recommend using an app, though, and not checking word counts in your normal program, because it’s helpful to see the count change in real time.)

I want you to write a drabble–that is, a 100-word scene–based on one of the prompts. Write the first thing that comes to your head, and write fast–don’t overthink it or worry about the exact word count yet. Just aim for a scene that’s short, but still has a clear beginning, end, and purpose.

Then, your goal is to cut it back to 100 words (or less.)

I started with this prompt: Meet me at midnight. Alone.

Without paying attention as I typed, I got 119 words:

My phone buzzed on the nightstand. I wanted to ignore it, but I checked the new text anyway. Billy had been having a rough week.

Meet me at midnight. Alone.

I sighed and dropped my book, dragging myself out of bed. I had half an hour to get dressed and find him, because of course Billy hadn’t said where he was. I had a good idea, at least of where to start looking. The last time I’d gotten a cryptic message like this, I’d ended up at the lake, twenty minutes late.

I hoped this time around, I wasn’t going to need my shovel.

I checked my trunk before I left, though. It was still there, just in case.

So here’s the question–can I cut 19 words without giving up any story elements?

My phone buzzed on the nightstand. I wanted to ignore it, but I checked the new text anyway didn’t. Billy had been was having a rough week.

Meet me at midnight. Alone.

I sighed and dropped my book, dragging myself out of bed. I had half an hour thirty minutes to get dressed and find him, because of course Billy hadn’t said where he was. I had a good idea, at least of where to start looking. The last time I’d gotten a cryptic message like this, I’d ended up at the lake, twenty minutes late.

I hoped this time around, I wasn’t going to wouldn’t need my shovel.

I checked my trunk before I left, though. It was still there, just in case.

I cut 26 words and added 5 new ones, when I shortened a phrase instead of cutting it, leaving me at 98 words.

Let’s look at the changes:

  • “checked the new text anyway” — At first I was going to cut “new” because that’s implied, but so is the fact that it’s a text, not a call, because the narrator doesn’t speak or mention Billy’s voice, then later refers to it as a “message.” The whole clause could go.
  • “had been” — It was acceptable as it stood, but changing tenses not only cuts a word, but makes the tone more immediate since Billy is still having a rough week.
  • “half an hour” — This one is debatable, since most people would say “half an hour” naturally, and I ended up two words under my goal. I could have changed it to “twenty minutes” to both cut the extra word and add more immediacy, but that would have changed a detail, which wasn’t the point of the exercise.
  • “wasn’t going to” — It reads fine, if informal, but “wouldn’t” is cleaner. Don’t complicate your verbs more than necessary.

Everything else is a straight cut of filler or redundancy. I could have even cut the final “just in case” as a trite phrase, but I like it, and it does imply something about how the narrator expects the night to unfold.

I’m deep, deep into this sort of editing on What We Need to Decide, but I know not everyone has a full-length manuscript lying around to practice on. Drabbles are quick to write, making them handy mini-editing lessons.

Give it a try, and if you’d like to share your finished drabbles, leave them in the comments–I’d love to read them!

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