Editing Your Short Stories

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Writing a story of 3.000 words or less is different from writing a full-length book or even a story of 10.000 words. The shorter the story, the more important it is to get your reader ‘in the story’ as soon as possible, but also to give your story a good plot and ending. If you are used to writing longer pieces, it can feel strange to write shorter stories.

The trick to keeping your stories tight and engaging lies in the editing. If you edit your story well, it will become more powerful.

Editing tips

Sit down, write your story and then let it rest for a day or two before you sit down to edit it. The following tips can help you to edit your short story.

Delete the first paragraph
When you write a story, it’s often so that the first paragraph serves to warm your brain. The first paragraph describes the scene and the action only starts in the second paragraph. When you have less than 3.000 words to tell your story, you have to get into the scene right away. There is no room for a longer introduction. When you edit your story, take notes of the important things in the first paragraph and then delete the paragraph. Those important things can be worked into the story somewhere else.

Remove much of ‘the world’
In every story you write you ‘build’ a ‘world’. You give your reader information on what the world of your characters look like. It’s wonderful to add lovely facts about that world to your text, but in a story of 3.000 words or shorter there is just no room for it. No matter how much you want to ad the ‘world facts’ to your story, it’s better to remove it.

On the third or fourth round that you read your story, you can put back some essential ‘world facts’, but only the essential ones!

Restore scene jumps
Scene jumps are when you jump from one scene to the other, for example from the house of the main character to the doctor’s waiting room and back to the main character’s house again. Sometimes you also see a scene jump in the text with the use of words such as ‘two weeks later’ or ‘the next day’. With scene jumps it actually means that you should split up your story in more than one.

When you have 3.000 words or less for a story it means you want to quickly get into the scene, want to introduce conflict quickly, let it escalate and give a solution. All of this must move quickly to keep the attention of your reader.
Force yourself to stay in the scene and not jump to another. This forces your reader to have an image in mind and hold it until the end of the story.

Read it out loud to someone else
Even people who don’t like reading will be willing to listen if you read 3.000 words or less to them. Reading your story out loud helps with two things:

  • It lets you hear how your characters sound. Things that are not logical come forward, for instance when you hear that your character has suddenly developed an accent halfway through the story.
  • It gives you a better feeling for the rhythm of the story. Short stories, like songs, have a certain rhythm. It’s not rhyme, but an emotional flow of the story. It must feel good tot he reader. Often you don’t feel the emotional flow of a story until you have heard it read out aloud.

Regardless of the number of words in your story, it’s always difficult to reduce it. Reducing the number of words happens when you edit it. Even if you don’t have much time to edit your story, following the tips above can make a huge difference.

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