12.28: Trimming and Expanding

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley

Revision: it’s when you make a too-short piece longer, or a too-long piece shorter. (It’s also a great many other things, suggesting that this description is a too-short piece in need of revision.)

Credits: This episode was recorded in Chicago by Andrew Twiss, and mastered deep beneath [REDACTED] by Alex Jackson


Identify the key concepts in a scene you need to shorten. Your budget is one sentence per concept. Rewrite the scene using exactly that many sentences.

Plea,” by Mary Anne Mohanraj

4 thoughts on “12.28: Trimming and Expanding”

  1. Informative. Thank you.
    I’ve long heard the advice in favor of trimming, but not expanding. It seems expansion is something more likely to happen with novels? Another great cast. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for the episode! My word count has jumped back and forth (structural issues), and I wanted to know what your policy is on beat sheets (save the cat). I’m thinking of stuffing my structure into one, but I’m scared that it might mess up half my story line.

    1. I think you’re overthinking it a bit. Story structures are tools to help with your overall perspective of the story. Plugging in the major beats into one of these structures will help you keep track of the things that will give the reader payoff, which can make it easier for you to stay focused on what’s really important. If, however, this process makes it more difficult to explore the world of your story, then by all means don’t stick to the beat sheet.

      Basically, I think you should at least try plugging in your story to a beat sheet. If you get an epiphany about your story by doing so, then yay! you got something out of it. If not, stick the outline in a drawer and leave it there to laugh at later.

      And if you want more specific advice…
      [gets out copy of Save the Cat to remember what the beats all are]
      Opening/Final Image and Theme Stated–Unless you’ve already figured these out, don’t bother with these until later. Heavily thematic elements can change greatly throughout the writing process so it’s better to nail them down after everything else is.
      Set-Up and Catalyst–Hopefully you’ve got a good idea of what these are since they’re probably the parts of the story that have been sitting in your draft folder the longest. If not, then do so since they’ll be foundational to your story.
      Debate and Break into Two–Eh, I know the transition points between Act 1 and Act 2 are important but they don’t necessarily have to be this explicit. If you don’t have anything clear-cut in your story for these parts, go ahead and try to write a couple scenes for them and see if they help or not.
      B-story–Unless you’re wrting short (and if you are, don’t even think about filling out a beat sheet) subplots are important to have and to keep track of. It’s all too easy to introduce a subplot and let it meander until it randomly disappears or that it resolves itself independently of the main plot. Keep an eye on this one.
      Fun and Games–Basically, it’s the part of the structure where there isn’t any clear structure. Do whatever you want (within reason).
      Midpoint and Bad Guys Close In–Now that you’ve done whatever you want, it’s time to remember that this story has stakes and consequences. I suspect that this might be where trouble is to be had, since refocusing can be very difficult after you had all this freedom. If it helps, think about the story from the antagonist’s perspective–the protagonist has been making his or her life difficult and now the antagonist is ready to pull out the big guns to make it stop.
      All is Lost and Dark Night of the Soul–Personally, I think this part of the Hero’s Journey is annoying in that a disenfranchised audience member will be “yeah, SURE, there’s no way out of this, I’ll come back in 5 minutes and you’ll be saving the day, yay.” Done right, though, and the audience will feel the protagonist’s pain and recognize that even though there’s good coming, this moment of sorrow is still valid and should be recognized.
      Break into Three and Finale–I don’t have any good advice for these, most of my stories end sad.

  3. Well, it’s time to get out your machete, for trimming of extra fat, and your bicycle pump for adding some more hot air where your story needs to balloon out and turn into a grand zeppelin of ponderable themes and things! This time, the four-some from the Windy City take a look at the incredible shrinking and swelling story! How can you turn that story into an epic, or what about shrinking it down to size? So, get your kit ready, and read all about it in the transcript, either in the archives or over here


    And make those words work!

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