07 December 2008

Tips for Snips

How do you make a short story "tight"? How do you keep in the bits you need and cut out the bits you don't? It's not as easy as it seems, but here's a few ideas on places where it is often a good idea to cut.

  1. Non-action actions. Watch out for boring verbs that slow both the action and the story. Examples: paused, waited, watched, listened, looked, thought (in the context of just "thinking" as opposed to relaying the actual thoughts), considered (same), contemplated (same). I bet you can come up with more.
  2. Meaningless time descriptors. Do these really add anything? "For a moment," "for awhile," "for some time," "for a beat," "for what seemed like forever," "endless/endlessly," "interminable." Often number 1 above is combined with number two. "He waited for some time" or "he paused for a moment."
  3. Actions that are too detailed. In my critique group we call this "walking the dog." Unless the minute details are important, write "I took the dog for a walk" rather than "I got out the leash. I put it on the dog. I opened the front door. I closed the door behind me. I started walking." Etc. What actions can your reader infer so that he can get to the meat of your story? Even the simple flip of a switch by a character can slow things down if you don't need it. 
  4. Double-dipping. Once you describe something in detail, don't do it again. You can use a keyword to remind the reader--i.e. "the glowing orb," but otherwise assume the reader got it the first time.

7 comments:

lesleylsmith said...

Good tips, Editor Dave. :)

Betsy said...

Listen to these words, people. Dave is a master at putting stories on diets.

writtenwyrdd said...

Thanks for the advice! I'm trying to learn the fine art of short story writing because I'm so verbose, and it is an educational process indeed. Reading your blog is very helpful for that, because although I got a degree in creative writing, it taught me nothing about creative editing or how editors of short stories think.

laughingwolf said...

deadly advice, thank you :D

Anonymous said...

Neat and concise with good concrete examples. Thanks!

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