Writing is hard. Writing succinctly - doubly so.
Many writers start with short stories. The length can vary greatly, but for the purposes of this post I’m going to say between 1,000-10,000 words (0-1,000 being “flash fiction”). They’re generally simple in structure, easy to read, and provide an instant insight into the qualities of the writer.
What writers often fail to realise is the importance of editing. Because there are so few words in which to develop context, character, and plot, every word should contribute to the narrative.
The writing process
It’s possible to compose a short story in a day, even in one sitting. You’re in the moment, thinking about well defined and fully formed characters, an interesting story and how to translate it to the page. You have the inspiration, the motivation and the keyboard. It’s going to be great.
A short while later you read back over the story and it’s exactly how you’d hoped that it would be. If so, congratulations. I have one word to offer you. Wait.
The importance of editing
You’re unable to read the story with an objective eye for the same reasons that you wrote it. You can see the characters in your head, visualise them in their environment. When you read back what you’ve written the words merge with your internal imagery. You have no way to distinguish between this hybrid and what others may see in the story.
Before you even start editing, the key is to wait. Wait as long as you can, until you can no longer feel that inspiration or visualise the scenes. Only then will you be able to read the story for what it is, and edit it with an objective eye.
What to look for
In the spirit of editing lets treat the above like a short story. It may only be a few hundred words, but I’ve always found that practical examples are better than theory. I wrote the above in one sitting, and decided not to edit what I’d written. Instead, I’ve outlined a few points I would edit and why.
● “Editing Short Stories” - Is this a suitable title? It was what I set out to write, but the key message of the post turned out to be about waiting. Perhaps I should rephrase the opening few lines to focus on the importance of waiting rather the importance of editing.
● Was the definition of a short story’s length really necessary? Maybe an opportunity to cut down the word count.
● I switched perspectives - the post started discussing “writers” as an abstract, then moved to “you”. Does the change benefit/harm the story?
● “I have one word to offer you” - “Wait” was actually the second word, after “congratulations”. Maybe rephrase to “I have one word of advice to offer you”.
● The post ends quite abruptly. The pacing may benefit from a summary sentence/paragraph highlighting a few of the key points.
● I forgot plug my own book/site. The post would have been the ideal opportunity to talk about The Locked Room - a series of impossible crime short stories, the first of which is available online for free. Oh well, I guess I missed my chance ;)
About P.J. Bergman
P.J. was born in Boston (the town in Lincolnshire, UK, not the USA version) and moved to Dublin, Ireland in 2011 to work for Google. He is currently writing the upcoming novel, The Locked Room, and launched the website of the same name to share progress, talk about the genre, and generally avoid actually writing the book.
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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