This is a new part of my 30-Day Editing Challenge. Start at the beginning or find other days here.
By this stage in the editing struggle, you probably feel that you’ve whittled the story down to the bare nub. There can’t be much extra flab left, you think. And yet, our perceptions of what is truly essential and what makes a powerful story can still be clarified all the more.
Several years ago I discovered that Microsoft Word had an “auto-summarize” feature. Open any document of text, select “summarize”, and you’d get a bizarre hodgepodge of sentences, an AI’s attempt to discern what was essential and what was not. Once I put a novel draft into this feature and boiled it down and down and down until all I had left was “Nicole said” over and over. The feature is essentially nonsense, and yet I found it fascinating and eye-opening to see what another’s perception (even an artificial perception) was gleaning were the most important and recurring pieces.
Sadly, Microsoft Word doesn’t have this feature anymore, but I discovered that Preview does on Macs; visit this instruction page if you want to learn how to activate it!
But that brings me to your exercise for today, which I always find tremendously helpful for my own thought process. Today, you are going to write a 100-word version of your story.
That doesn’t mean just summarizing the plot points as well as you can. This must be a powerful stand-alone story in its own right. That might mean choosing just one powerful scene, or composing new lines that best capture your characters and their conflict. Whatever you do, make it a story. Make it work.
It’s a fun challenge; don’t let yourself accept a single word over 100. And when you’re done, you might be surprised by what scenes and characters you’ve chosen to highlight. It can give you insight into what is really at the core of your story.
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