Every word in a short story counts. If it's not moving the plot forward, it's not worth it. Many magazines and short story markets have very rigorous word count limits. So how do you go from writing novels of 50,000 words or more to a short story that has to be under 5,000? What techniques for brevity have you found helpful? How do you tighten your prose to make it still shine, but also carry the point quickly and succinctly? How do these techniques also help your novel writing?
I've never tried to turn a 50,000 word novel into a 5,000 word short story, and I can't imagine where I would start if I wanted to, but on a smaller scale I do a lot of editing for brevity.
Some sorts of story call for long, drawn out, flowery descriptions, but others need to be sharp and quick. Action scenes are the ones I tend to edit most for this, because I often find myself writing too much description so that it loses its impact.
So my top four tips and methods for brevity:
- Read it aloud. If you stumble over a word, chances are your reader will too, so take it out or replace it with something else.
- If your sentence is longer than two lines (in font size 11 on an A4 page) then it may need revising.
- Double check your descriptions to make sure that they're necessary and that they're not repetitive. I asked my brother to proof read something for me once, and his first comment was 'well I gathered she's got curly hair, then'. When I went back to it, I found I'd mentioned the character's hair at least three times in 10 pages.
- If in doubt or you don't know where to begin, a second pair of eyes could help. Get someone you trust and who has a good grasp of the language to have a quick look over what you've written and flag up any bits that seem to drag or feel 'clunky'.