13 December 2006

Put your story on a diet

We just had our production meeting last night and the results are great: Seven wonderful stories to look forward to in January. A couple are from unpublished authors. That's the best email to write as an editor, knowing you're making someone's dream come true.

What kinds of stories did we pick? Several seemed to speak to the times, indirectly: the war, terrorism, race relations. One amusing story contains unwanted guests--maybe we were subconsiously thinking of the upcoming holidays?

Overall, I noticed a theme in our conversation, even about the stories we did pick. They all could be shorter. I've written this here before, but a solid rule during editing is to cut ten percent. (I'm not making it up: Stephen King, for one, said an editor told him that early on and he's always followed the advice--obviously to great advantage.) This exercise belongs in a later revision, when you're quite sure what you're trying to say. Then, search out ways to be concise. Eliminate adverbs and maybe even adjectives. Study your descriptions. What purpose do they serve? Do they propel the plot and character development, or only ground the reader so we're not floating in space? Good descriptions do all three.

You might not make the ten percent, but in general every story needs cutting. The new year is coming; time to trim the fat.

2 comments:

David Hughes said...

I agree, Betsy. Many of the stories needed to be shorter. This is especially true for an on-line magazine like Electric Spec. We suspect that most of our readers do not print out our stories, so we need to keep their attention on the screen, which means every word has to count!

lesleylsmith said...

I think the both of you may be thinking about New Years resolutions already! :) Hhm...I'm getting a story idea....