by Tahsin Tarafdar, Age 14, Canada
In a short story, your writing is under the microscope; every word must count. I think this small margin of error is what separates short story writing from novel writing. That’s one of the main reasons why editing is a crucial step in the process. Here are some issues to watch for when revising your short story.
This used to be – and still sometimes is – a problem I struggled with. I learned that the reader is not concerned with the colour of the protagonist’s hair or their outfit, unless it’s relevant to the conflict. In order to fend off the sleep-inducing details, keep this tip in mind: every sentence must either advance the plot or deepen the character.
When I wrote my first short story, I used a metaphorical and somewhat poetic style of writing. It had disastrous results. Compare the following paragraphs.
A fiery red blush seeped into Tim’s cheeks as tears streamed down, leaving a trail of dried salt and pain. He glanced at her, his gaze piercing her back like a sharp needle. “Stop it.”
Another way of phrasing it: Tim blushed, a tear rolling down his cheek. He glared at her and said, “Stop it.”
The second paragraph is much clearer and has a stronger impact. Stunning imagery and metaphor is obviously encouraged, but a writing style that is muddled with clichés and ambiguous descriptions will kill your story. The objective is not to sound like a writer. Clean, economical prose that creatively uses language is the most effective.
The biggest flaw of my first story was that I took too long to introduce the conflict. Don’t include background information in the first paragraph – plunge the reader straight into the action! You can flash back to the details later.
A common problem is trying to cram a plot with a long time-span into a story with a tiny word count. By doing so, the pace will feel rushed and you won’t have a chance to delve into any of the key scenes. You will sacrifice character development as well as a storyline that could’ve been shortened.
Don’t be discouraged when you face rejection. Learn from your mistakes – I certainly have! Invest time in editing your work because it’ll pay off in the long run. Like Chris Offutt once said, “You have to be utterly vulnerable on the page, and utterly ruthless in revision.”
Tahsin Tarafdar is a 14 year old Canadian writer. Tahsin says, “Writing is one of my favourite hobbies. I hope to pursue a career related to literature in the future.”