There is a big difference in writing at story of less than fifteen hundred words, opposed to a story of three or ten thousand words, or even a full novel. With shorter stories you have to get your reader engaged in the story much quicker. The trick to keeping your stories tight and engaging, lies in the editing. If you edit your story well, it will become more powerful.
This post will give you several tips on editing stories – your own and that of others. The first thing is to sit down and write your story. Then let it rest for a day or two before you come back to edit it.
One part of editing is to edit your story down to a required number of words (when you write for a submission call or maybe a competition). The other part – and this can be done either by yourself or by an editor, is to check your style, grammar, spelling, and tenses.
Editing tips to reduce the length
The following tips will help you to work through that first draft of your short story, and make it better.
Delete the first paragraph
When you write a story, the first paragraph often s serves to warm your brain. The first paragraph frequently describes the scene and the action only starts in the second paragraph. When you have less than fifteen hundred words to tell your story, you have to get right into the scene. There’s no room for a longer introduction. When you edit your story, take notes of the important things in the first paragraph, and then delete it. 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 fifteen hundred words or shorter there is just no room for it. No matter how much you want to add ‘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’ to support your story, 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. 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 fifteen hundred words or less for a story, 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 fifteen hundred words or less to them. Reading your story out loud helps with two things:
- It allows you to hear how your characters sound. Things that don’t sound logical come forward, for instance when 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 to the reader. Often you don’t feel the emotional flow of a story until you have heard it read out aloud.
The editing checklist to clean up your text
It is one thing to write a story, but something else to edit it, especially to see your own style errors. There’s always the option to send the first version of your text – whether short or longer – off to an editor, but there are a lot of things you can do to self edit your texts.
- Capitalize the first word of each sentence.
- Capitalize all proper nouns (place, people, titles).
- End each sentence with a period, a question mark or an exclamation point.
- Use punctuation correctly.
- Check your spelling.
- Indent the beginning of each new paragraph (this is optional).
- Check for sentence fragments and remove them, unless they have a real purpose.
- There are no run-on sentences that should be two separate sentences.
- Subjects and verbs agree in number (singular subject, singular verb / plural subject, plural verb).
- Pronouns clearly refer to someone or something.
- Use the same verb tenses (past, present, future) throughout your writing.
- Use different lengths of sentences – long, short and medium in length.
- Choose for clear, interesting, colorful, precise words and make sure they are a fit for your audience.
- Don’t use the same words/phrases repeatedly.
- Cut out any un-needed words.
More self-editing tips
- Structure the task – put the largest elements, such as the plot structure first. Once you are satisfied with that, you can focus on details of language (grammar, style, spelling, punctuation).
- Use free tools – there are some free tools that can help you to edit your text, such as Pro Writing Aid (http://prowritingaid.com?afid=2427). This helps to point out overused words, sentences that are too long, passive voice and other things you could change to make your writing more dynamic.
- Be ruthless – don’t be afraid to cut parts of your story that aren’t working and start afresh. The cut piece may have been a vital preparation for something much better.
- Take a break – after finishing your draft, put your work away for a day or a week or as long as it takes for you to come back and look at it with fresh eyes.
- Read aloud – hearing the rhythm of your words, will help you edit for flow. Also, your ears can help you find errors your eyes miss.
- Mix it up – reading your texts over and over again will make you miss the errors. Try reading backwards from the last word of a paragraph to try and spot those errors that are hard to find.
- Change the picture – try changing the font and the font size in your word processor when you edit. The altered appearance could help you to see the text differently.
Regardless of the number of words in your story, it’s always difficult to reduce it, and find those errors. Reducing the number of words happens when you edit it. Finding those errors 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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