A few days ago, Woodland Press released Legends of the Mountain State 2. It's an anthology of stories based on ghost legends from West Virginia folklore and is edited by Michael Knost.
Table of Contents:
"Dancing in Time to the Beating Heart of the World" by Mark Justice
"The Adventure of the Greenbrier Ghost" by Jonathan Maberry
"The Grim Beast of Iaeger" by Bob Freeman
"The Cold Gallery" by Lucy A. Snyder
"The Anniversary" by Nate Kenyon
"Cain Twists" by Steven L. Shrewsbury
"Occurrence at Flatwoods" by Michael Laimo
"A House is Not a Home" by Maurice Broaddus
"Dark Wisdom" by Gary A. Braunbeck
"An Angel in the Balcony" by Brian J. Hatcher
"Andi" by Mary SanGiovanni
"The Man in Ragged Blue" by Rob Darnell
"For Just One Night" by Nate Southard
"The Cold Gallery" was a bit of an interesting challenge to write. All the writers had to choose a particular ghost legend from West Virginia that hadn't been used before in the previous anthology. I decided the Riggleman Hall hauntings reported at the University of Charleston sounded interesting, but ultimately I couldn't find a lot of details to work with. And that's fine, really - filling in the gaps is what I do.
But meeting a 2K maximum word count limit -- that was a bit harder.
When I started out writing short stories years ago, I wrote long. I was mainly oriented toward reading novels, and a lot of what I wrote came out at a novel pace. Most of what I tried came out around 8,000 words, which as all of you know is a terribly awkward length for a new writer to try to sell. Frustrated at not being able to sell my stories, I set most of them aside. As I got more experience, my story counts dropped to 5K, 4K, and by the time I wrote the content for ILDB I was comfortably writing in the 1K-3K range that magazines prefer to buy.
And then I went back to those old, long stories, and found I could boil out a lot of words, and once they'd been condensed, those stories started finding homes.
Writing compact stories is a skill, and usually it has to be learned over years of practice. It's probably so hard to teach that many will insist it's some kind of magical talent that either you have or you don't have. Writing is like that: it all has to be learned, but a lot of it difficult to teach. Too much is attributed to talent.
A lot of green writers react badly to critiques telling them that their prose needs serious revision. Part of that may be ego, but a lot of it I think comes from bone-deep panic: they don't know how to fix the problems they've been presented with. And so many of them go through anger, bargaining, denial, depression instead of revising, or they bravely wade in and maybe make things worse.
And sometimes, I've had critique partners make a big deal about a problem that, while it definitely needed to be addressed, wasn't really that difficult to solve. Sometimes if you're hazy on the how-to-fix part, the vehemence of the critique can lead you to believe that it's going to be much harder than it really is. And instead of trying some writers just give up.
I've come to think of poems, stories, and novels and different kinds of machines. When it's all closed up, a reader won't see the mechanisms, they'll just see a sleek, shiny, exciting F1 novel zooming along at 250MPH. As writers, we have to be able to see (and appreciate) the machinery, and know how to swap out parts when something's broken or badly designed. And often we have to spend a lot of time on mass reduction.
2K words for a ghost story is not a lot of room. I think my first draft was around 3K words, and boiling a third out of a story that's short to begin with was a challenge. I started treating it almost like a poem in that I started looking not just at sentences but individual words to see if they were carrying their weight.