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Short story writing: editing and revising


Once you have written out the first draft of a story you should go through it again, editing and revising until you are satisfied that it is as tight and economical as possible. Then, once you have the second draft you should repeat the process as many times as is necessary for you to feel that no more can be done. This process will take much longer than the writing of the original draft, and it is where the real 'slog' of writing comes in, but it is also where the real satisfaction of writing comes in, because it is this process which turns a potentially good story into a good story, or a good amateur story into a professional story

I strongly advise that editing and revising should be done with print-outs, and not exclusively on the computer screen. It is all-too-easy to fail to spot errors on a computer screen which are quite noticeable when reading print on paper.

Much of the process is to do with cutting things out, and these are the sorts of thing you should be looking for:

1) Superfluous words and phrases which demand the reader's attention without contributing anything essential to the story.

2) Repetitions which say in a slightly different way something which has already been said.

3) Explanations whose function is to fill the reader in, just in case he isn't quite sure what is going on.

4) Digressions away from the action in hand.

5) Indulgences which you have put in for your own benefit but do not advance the plot.

As well as making these economies, you should be asking yourself: 'Does this sentence/paragraph say exactly what I wanted it to say?'. When writing a first draft it is important to get all the material down as quickly as possible so that we have the rough shape of the story mapped out. We don't have time to ponder over every paragraph to make sure it is says exactly what we wanted, but it is essential to do this in subsequent drafts, because it is highly unlikely that everything will have come out right the first time.

Paragraphs are the units to work in during revision. Make sure that each has a sound structure of its own, while at the same time following on logically from the last and leading logically to the next. Paragraphs are the building blocks from which a story is made, and getting the overall shape of the story right is largely a question of getting the shape of each paragraph right.

A good thumb-rule to bear in mind is to open each paragraph with some action. Save thoughts, feelings, etc. for later in the paragraph, when you have established the context in which they take place.

It is not uncommon for people to feel a resistance to revising their work because they find it difficult, or even painful to look so closely at what they themselves have written. There is a degree of self-examination involved, and this is not always easy. But it is essential. As well as looking at the technicalities of economical writing we have to re-live and re-examine the ideas and feelings that went into the story in the first place, and refine them to their essence.

You must be ruthless and not be afraid to cut bits out. The bits you cut out may contain the seeds of a new story.

You will know when you have finished revising your story when you get the feeling of satisfaction which comes from knowing that every word is the right word and in its right place.





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