Sunday night, my eyes the size of my laptop, back stooped so much it has fixed itself into a rigid frame, I finished draft 2.5 of my short story. Great, time to submit.
But no because the second draft had just involved cutting the 8500 words down to 4999 for a competition.
One word to spare and the temptation to submit was high. One more read, go on Sarah, just one more.So with a sigh and another degree added to my stoop angle, I put my audience hat on and started reading.
I’m so happy that I did too because a few entirely fixable issues raised their head. They weren’t character wants or desires or the structure, not the regular rewriting checklist that you make on the second or third draft.
My sole objective was to make the story as enjoyable as possible to the competition reader, and these are the issues I corrected that made the story so much more enjoyable. Thankfully because by this time I only had 27 minutes to go.
These were my significant observations and actions that was holding the story back from being a more enjoyable read.
1. Upgrade The Ordinary
This tip may be entirely subjective and reflective of my rule about not wanting to read about people more boring than me. That rule isn’t difficult to observe, given I’m a writer and I sit, stooped, for much of the day.
The first change I made was to find opportunities to make ordinary events more exciting.
I bet there are a couple of ordinary things that your protagonist is doing that could benefit from making more appealing, more mysterious or more active action.
EXAMPLE: The opening scene of this story had my protagonist arriving in town on a train, so he walked through a station on the way to his apartment.
When I read through it, I realised that it was a bland action and introduction to the story. The details about the station and the journey were all static. There wasn’t much mystery or romance contained within the route.
He’s a thief and incognito, so a more secret entrance served the story better. That introduction felt ordinary. I switched it in favour of something more fitting to his character. I smuggled him across a border in the back of a truck which gave me more natural storytelling opportunities to set a scene that departing from a train station didn’t allow.
A new, more exciting arrival allowed me to set up points of intrigue for the reader, more so than the previous set up. It opened up more questions than it gave answers to which is where you want to be at the beginning of a story.
Are there opportunities to upgrade moments of ordinariness in your story?
2. Heavy Detail Front Loading
Don’t give away all of the details for your story in the beginning. I’m not talking about giving away the plot, but sometimes I cram too many details about my character into the beginning thinking that the audience needs to know. They generally don’t; they’ll find out ergo.
I had overloaded information at the beginning of the story. Some of it was information that was conveyed via action later on in the script, i.e. unnecessary exposition. But there were also character details that were more effective later on in the story.
Exposition aside, are all of the particulars congregating up one end of your story? Remember, your reader should experience a constant state of discovery and too information in one spot ruins this experience.
Cutting additional detail in the beginning allowed a better story flow and helped with the word count.
3. Boring Action Details
On rereading my story, I noticed that I’d used too many unnecessary words to describe an action. This is distracting for a reader because it takes them away from the story unnecessarily.
Remember each detail needs to maintain a sense of rhythm and flow.
My excessive movement details were often in mundane actions, and maybe this is a playwriting hangup, but it went like this.
Anja turned around to go back to bed.
The action of going back to bed didn’t warrant a lengthy sentence.
Anja went back to bed.
4. Redundant Characters
I had a redundant character in my story, but it was too late to change it because the deadline closed in half an hour.
I’m sure there is a good rule about how many characters to have in a story, definitely in a short story. If a character doesn’t suit your action line, get them out of there.
This is a variation of kill your darlings, but side characters aren’t necessarily your darlings anyway so make sure they earn their place.
Rewriting is the perfect time to prune those characters who don’t deserve their page time.
5 Repetition of Details
It’s a bad habit of mine to convey details that repeat a point I have already made. Readers are savvy. You don’t need to show something twice to convey one point. Your character doesn’t need to cry into their pillow and be stood up for a date. You get that they are lonely from the first incident.
Readers like to learn things along the way; not be hit over the head with multiple examples of the same emotion.
Show it once.
Going over details too much can lead to your reader getting bored. We want to see momentum and them moving forward, not doing the same thing all of the time.
It’s so hard this short story business, whether the idea is new or old but next time you rewrite to remember these five easy fixes to give your reader a more enjoyable experience.
These tips will also apply to longer stories and where readability is at stake they could apply to all of your writing.
Be alert to what might be holding back your reader experience.
Thanks for reading and good luck with your short story writing. If you are a creative writer you may be interested in this blog about Katherine Mansfield.
This post was originally published in The StartUp.