I've heard some of the big ones: leave the piece alone until you come back to it reading like a stranger, cut words and phrases that don't pull their weight, stuff like that. I'm trying to figure out to make bigger changes in this long short story from over a year ago. With my fresh eyes and all I can see prose problems I couldn't, make a lot of the dialogue better, but I'm still looking to cut this monster down from around 9,500 words to closer to 8. More if I can swing it. I'm thinking I might start trying to send it out to mags, but I want to tighten it up first. How do you guys go about the second draft?
I'd start by reading it out loud, and anywhere you stumble, or it doesn't quite flow very well, cut it, or change it so that it does.
Try to be good, not different.
I feel like editing as you go will slow you down too much and you'll never really get anywhere with your story. That's why it's good to write with pen and paper, there's no backspace key. For me, writing flows better when it's almost stream of conscious writing. Then put it away for however long you think you need and then open it and edit it minimally. Usually sheering off words here and there is all it needs. And yes, reading it out loud. I never thought that was true until I read a story at an open mic that I'd written years ago and knew and loved and all of a sudden, I saw a sentence or two that had weird syntax and needed to be fixed.
Re-read, re-read, re-read, re-read, re-read. Be a total narcissist and just keep at it. All those unnecessary words and phrases will start popping up.
So—and I say this having read it outloud a couple times, reduced it to stew and jigsawed it into a new second draft, which I've already line-edited and it's only like 500 words shorter—should I just keep hacking at syntax and try and whittle it down? Or is it worth it to figure out how to compress each scene? I'm driving myself a little crazy, thinking it's too long but thinking if I force it to be shorter I could ruin it.
@Dwayne: Can you explain that? Do you mean, 'don't think of editing as needing to make a bunch of changes but rather as needing to make things good'?
No. Add Stop over thinking to the list.
I mean that put your focus on good writing, not orginal writing.
Man, not over thinking's got permanent residency up near the top of my list. I should get those words tattooed on the insides of my eyelids.
Yeah, that's sound advice. I like my story, I think it's pretty solid by now, but I'm still hesitant to go sending a 33 page, 9598 word clown-horror short story out to editors or whoever.
I've never submitted anything before.
Rewrite from the beginning?
Cut a subplot or unnecessary plot point?
This is already a rewrite from the beginning. Haha
It's hard figuring out what's not necessary. I think I should probably put it up in the LR workshop again.
If it's over 9K words, it's probably more than one scene. Do you need all of them? Do you need all of the paragraphs or could you cut chunks out without harming the reader's understanding? etc.
Unless you look broader than sentence by sentence, you'll never cut much.
I think there is a sweet spot for short stories from 2k to 5k words, and I hate it when I write long short stories (or novelettes, as your story is now). Cuts down on the possible markets.
That's what I've been trying to do, shave down paragraphs, and so far it's not done enough. You're totally right, that sentence by sentence isn't going to do much. I feel like there's got to be a way to strip certain scenes and incorporate their key functions elsewhere, but I don't want it to turn into a total miscarriage if I start really poking at it. Then I'll probably lose patience, stow it away, and forget about it for another year, at least. Gross metaphor.
That's exactly my hesitancy towards trying to market it at this length. It's not long enough to be a novella, but too long to comfortably be a short story. It's a weird length for the web, I feel. But what do I know. I didn't know novelette is a thing. Interesting.
Novelette is 7500 to 15000 words (or 17,500 for speculative fiction). But those are just definitions. Some markets have maximum of 5K or 7K or 10K.
Oh, that's good to know. My other completed piece is just short of being a novelette by those word standards.
Did you have any luck cutting down your story to the desired length?
I never think about it going to be a novel when I write it. I'm in such a wakeful sleep mode it just kind if flows.
That moment when you are fully awake and still seeing your PTSD nightmares unfold.
I edit using eight most common themes from my life.
@Murasaki: Not exactly. I shaved it down, had some people read it, and found a few more issues with it that I need to go back and address at some point.