How To Best Shorten Your Short Story | Writer’s Relief

How To Best Shorten Your Short Story | Writer’s Relief

When reading short stories published in literary journals, you may notice some of these short stories are actually medium-length—and an occasional short story may be rather long. But with more people using mobile devices for all their reading, editors of literary magazines are now focusing on shorter short stories that don’t exceed about 3,500 words. If you want to boost your odds of getting published, the experts at Writer’s Relief know it’s important to shorten your short story and make it as tight and concise as possible without losing anything essential.

5 Ways To Shorten Your Short Story

Change your mind. Big stories can come in little packages! Sometimes, a short story that’s actually short can pack just as much meaning and experience into the text as a story that sprawls across several pages. Concise, focused writing often leads to a bigger emotional impact. Stories that start from the very first sentence tend to get more attention than those that fight for momentum.

Is it easy to write “short”? Nope. But that’s why today’s editors favor shorter shorts. Writers who can trim, tighten, and edit tend to earn editors’ favor. When you revise, be sure your prose is tight and concise. Here’s how to purge extra words from your sentences.

So don’t be afraid of tightening things up! Sometimes, less is more.

Start on the right foot. In a best-case scenario, your short short story’s life begins before you start writing it. When you’ve got your ear to the ground and are listening for a spark of inspiration, remember that how you start your short story will impact how it ends.

For example: If you imagine a short story that’s going to follow the life of a salesman from his third grade play to his three marriages to his death, you’re going to have a really, really long short story. In fact, you might have a novella.

But if you envision a short story that’s a snippet of that man’s life—maybe a meaningful dinner party or the birth of a child—your story will do a better job of delving into the meaning of the moment. Don’t bite off more than your short story can chew.

Use your zoom lens. Imagine your short story is a camera, and focus in on a character or a moment very tightly. Explore the moment from every angle. Sometimes, very small moments can have huge, consequential meanings. The moment can be mundane (a man picks up a coin on the ground) to the exceptional (a woman reaches the top of Mt. Everest). Either way, there’s a lot of gravity to discover in the “small” moments.

Consider a character sketch. A short story doesn’t have to “do” much; it can just “be.” A short story is not necessarily like a novel or a memoir, which often has a particular kind of momentum that builds from one scene to the next. For that reason, a short story is a great place to work up a character sketch. Explore a character’s strengths and flaws. Perhaps there’s a quiet moment at the end of the story in which the character has the opportunity to change something about themselves (this would be a climactic moment). Whether or not the character decides to change will give your character sketch some shape.

Read more: Five Tips To Make Your Story Stand Out.

Revisit your existing short stories. Sometimes it’s possible to find a shorter story within a longer one. For example, you might revisit an old short story, identify a key moment, and then write a new short story that focuses specifically on that moment. Or consider doing a character sketch based on a character you already know from a previous short story—and you might even learn something about your new protagonist!

Shortening your short stories, trimming the word count, and editing can all be frustrating. But the results—tighter writing as well as an increased number of literary journals that will be interested in publishing your work—will be worth it!


Question: What’s your go-to tip for shortening a short story?


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