So you’ve written your story. Look! Words! Sentences! Paragraphs! Time to publish! Seriously? Are you kidding me?
I look at story writing for Ficly as having two separate processes, writing and editing, and I switch back and forth between them at will. What happens in these processes is entirely different. When I write, I work out the details of the plot, invent the characters with their salient characteristics, and express my ideas in words in an effort to make the story leave my brain and splash onto the page.
Once I’ve done that, the hard work begins. Editing… it isn’t just making certain that the spelling and grammar of the piece are correct. There’s a lot of other factors that need to be considered. What follows is probably a very incomplete guide regarding things to think about when editing. These aren’t rules. Plainly and simply, if you don’t think that a particular guideline is appropriate to the story you’re writing, don’t follow it but do that knowingly.
Since most people do think about spelling and grammar when they think about editing, let’s get that one out of the way first so we can focus on more interesting things. Spelling, grammar and punctuation are important for one reason and one reason alone: you should not expect anyone else to take your writing seriously if you can’t be bothered to take even the most basic of interest in the presentation of your own story. First impressions are important. Done with that.
Now comes the interesting part. Dismiss that writer part of you from the room. Read your piece several times through as though you were not its author, and ask yourself the following questions as you do.
Is the piece internally consistent? Are there any contradictions? If the piece is a prequel or sequel, is the piece consistent with the installments with which it is associated? As a writer, you should resolve what contradictions you find.
Are there any redundancies? Is there too much repetition in word choice or sentence structure? Is there anything that can be inferred rather than being directly stated? Find alternate words. Break sentences up or combine them. Rephrase. Variation always keeps the reader’s interest better than reiteration does. Look for words that revolve around the same basic idea to see if some of them can be omitted. An example would be words like wet and water. Don’t spoon feed your readers. Make them do some thinking. The character limit is absolute so a mindful choice of words is important.
Are there any conjoined sentences in which the parts bear no logical relationship to each other? Break the sentence into two parts. Shorter sentences add punch to a story.
Does the piece seem rushed? Has the 1024 character limit forced you to accelerate through parts of the piece? A rushed piece is often the result of a story that’s too large in scope for the format. If that’s the case, you have at least two choices: enlarge the space by using multiple installments, or shrink the story by focusing on what you see as the truly critical aspect.
Does the piece achieve what you hoped for emotionally? Will the story hit the reader hard precisely when you want her to be hit, or are there incidents of heightened emotion that read like a cookbook? This can happen if the piece is rushed, but you can also look at your word choice. Words like “mad” or “angry” are flat compared to “infuriated” or “enraged.” Choose wisely.
Does the piece genuinely convey what you hoped it would when you wrote it? Are you effectively communicating the ideas that you intended? Is the story interesting to you? For me, this is the big question and there is no cookie cutter answer. It’s more a matter of sitting there and reading your piece until you come up with an answer. If you determine that you yourself aren’t particularly thrilled with your own piece, send it back to the writer with a rejection slip. It has happened to me on many occasions that I’ve had to thoroughly revise stories which just fell horribly flat. In some cases, I’ve even gone so far as to determine that the idea itself isn’t worthy of pursuit and I delete my draft entirely.
Because of the character limitation and because it is possible to write prequels and sequels, some of the standard rules regarding short story writing can be overlooked. In my mind, it is perfectly fine to begin a piece without full introductions and to end a piece without a resolution.
The editor’s job is to present the writer’s story in a manner in which the readers will be interested. Take the time. It’s important. You’re important.