In my previous posts about writing short stories, I covered sticking to a single event or theme and choosing which details to include. Now I'm going to dive headfirst into the subtle art of editing your first (and any subsequent) draft of your story.
Polish, Don't Cut
Editing a short story can be a little more challenging than editing a novel, because a draft of a novel is almost always going to include subplots and exposition that doesn't necessarily advance the main plot of the story. Short stories are different, there are seldom subplots and the details included are often vital components of the story.
When looking over your draft of a short story, you need to be good at understanding whether there is a more concise way to express what you've written, or whether you've failed to include something that was in your head and didn't fully make it onto the page. Sometimes you'll find yourself adding elements to the story to round it out, other times you'll be reworking awkward phrasing.
I often find in the course of my editing that it's a break-even proposition. I tidy up unsightly language for shorter, more clean phrases, then add a sentence or two to complete parts of the story that need help.
End Your Relationship with Your Story
It's really difficult to resist the urge to jump back into a draft immediately after finishing it to start patching things up. But often times it's like tromping across wet concrete. You'll leave your mark, and it's not often a good one.
Stories need time to cure. You need to step away from your completed draft to give yourself some time to forget about all of the details you know but didn't write down. This is especially true with a short story, because it goes without saying that the writer knew more about the story than was translated onto the page. You have to "break up" with the story in a sense, in order to put on your editing hat. The writer is too close to the story, it is too sacred to them. Only an editor can do what is necessary.
Much like human relationships that end, it is harder to get over the writing phase when you keep steady contact with your story. It needs to go in a drawer, dropped onto a flash drive or simply ignored for at least a week. Write a rebound story to help you forget.
Then, when you do return to the story, you're able to read it. I mean, read it like a reader and not the person who wrote it. Giving your story some space lets you see its flaws and its warts, where it is weak and where it is strong, far removed from the rosy lens of the writer who's just given birth to bouncing baby piece of prose. Now you're not cuddling and cooing at the writing, you're changing diapers and wiping its nose.
Only then can you see whether you hit the mark with the single event or theme you were looking for, or whether you've got some work to get there.
Be sure to stop in next time to read my entry regarding the future of your finished short story.