I’ve mentioned that I’m writing a short story. Well, it’s all written, and now I’m on the critique stage. This is surprisingly less painful than I thought. Granted, there’s any number of things that need to be fixed, but the people who have read it thus far seem to think that it’s at least a solid base. I am okay with that. I can fix anything as long as I know the core is solid.
Since I’m not an expert, I’ve looked at a bunch of other short stories lately, both good ones and ones in need of work. The former shows me what should be done. The latter trains me to look at the things that need fixing. There are all kinds of diverse problems that show up with short stories, but I’ve got a list of the five things that tend to come up most often, for everyone.
1. More/less detail
With a word limit in place, it’s all the more important to make sure that each one of those words has some valuable information to convey. In my case, I need to add a lot of description, consolidate other details, and delete a scant few moments that serve no purpose. Every story has a different balance of that, but it’s important to remember that the descriptions will need tweaking.
Characters need a reason for doing things that covers the scope of the story without being too grandiose, and those motives must then be conveyed through the writing. I got my main character in the bag, but the villain’s motives came across a little vague.
3. One-dimensional characters
Short stories by their nature have a limited cast of characters. With the protagonist set in such sharp relief it is extra important to flesh the character out in whatever ways the story allows, to let them shine and not just be flat. All this without oversharing and dragging the story down. This is something most of my critiquers thought was fairly well executed, but I’ve written stories before where editing actually took away some of the life from the characters.
Short stories have a narrower focus than a novel. If, like me, you’re used to writing longer works, it takes a bit to find a premise and a pace that lends itself to a short story.
5. Redundancy of phrasing, or missing information
This one hit me so badly! When you write something and then repeat yourself a sentence later. And my readers had a bunch of questions about some of the background details (and what one character was doing because while I could picture the scene perfectly in my head I did not write that scene to any level of accuracy). I feel better, though, because I am assured that this is a common problem with first drafts, which my story is currently on. Conveying the right information to the right amount is hard!
So those are the primary things to watch out for when editing a short story. Not when writing it, when editing. Get the words, make it something you love or at least enjoy doing, and then fix the problems. Now, time for edits!