Short Story Writing and Editing
Do revise and rewrite - objective self-criticism is a skill worth practising. These are some of the faults and weaknesses that might cause your story to be rejected:
- Is the opening too long? Too slow? Too general? It's vital to grab the reader from the opening paragraph.
- Have you begun in the right place, at an intriguing point in the action? Avoid the leisurely preamble - get right into the story.
- Have you used flashback? Too much 'history' can kill your story's pace.
- Have you developed your characters and portrayed them through their actions, reactions and interactions rather than by bald exposition?
- Have you sustained momentum throughout, moving the story on through cause and effect? Or have you cluttered the narrative with unnecessary detail and superfluous characters? Your hero might be reminded of his good fortune when he sees a beggar, but we don't need to know how Betty the Baglady fell on hard times. Keep the focus where it belongs.
- Is the ending satisfying, believable, and logical in the story's own terms? Or did you run out of steam, leave loose ends, or introduce a contrived 'twist' or a new character who provides all the answers?
- Is the viewpoint consistent? The tiniest shift can destroy the reader's empathy. For example, your hero sees his lost love: 'David felt his heart thump, and tears began to sting his blue eyes ...' The single word 'blue' is an observation from the outside, requiring us to look at David rather than feel with him.
- Have you given your characters suitable names? Take care not to 'place' your characters in inappropriate age bands or social categories: ' Ada and Herbert', 'Tracey and Kev', 'Camilla and Peregrine' - names like these evoke different perceptions and expectations.
- Is the dialogue natural? Or does it seem stilted and unconvincing? Read it aloud, tape it if possible, and listen for awkward phrases and out-of-character speech patterns and vocabulary. Use abbreviations: 'couldn't', 'he'd', 'they'll' and so on - where they feel right.
- Have you left the reader space to use his imagination - or have you described every move, thought and feeling? We don't need to know every detail of every scene. Don't be afraid of 'jumps' in time and place. This will lend pace to your story, too.