12 Secrets To Help You Shorten Your Short Story


We are just over the halfway mark with our 12 Short Stories Challenge and the submissions have been amazing. The word count is specific for each prompt and I have been challenging you with a different word count for each month. We have written 500-word stories and we have written 2500-word stories.

Exactly

I have set a further challenge for you to write to the exact number of words. There is a lot of controversy (read bitching and moaning. Hehe.) around this. The idea is that I want you to truly evaluate each word. I want you to examine your writing and decide what to do to reduce or increase the length of your story. This month’s prompt (The Club) is for 750 words ‘exactly’.

I don’t post stories that are way off the mark. I give you a few words each way, but I promise you ‘exactly’ will make you a better writer.

Writing such a short story is a challenge. Especially since the previous prompt was for 1200 words.

How to shorten your short story

I have created a list of things to do to shorten your story. I want to remind you that this is second draft stuff. In the first draft you will simply write, forget about the rules, the word count and write until you know what your story is about. Once you know that, write your short story.

Hint: If your short story is about 10 000 words you may have a tough time reducing it to 750 words. It is not impossible, but you might want to re-evaluate your execution or subject matter. This advice varies along with the length of your story.

You can reduce your word count in two ways:

Your writing

You can make structural changes to your writing that will reduce your word count:

  1. Cut adverbs. These are the –ly words. Replace them with strong verbs.
  2. Cut most adjectives. Sometimes we describe something for the sake of it. Make sure that description is necessary.
  3. Strengthen descriptions. By using strong nouns and verbs we can reduce the length of a description and increase the impact of that description.
  4. Use contractions. This is a simple cheat that can cut a word or two if you need to be exact. Make sure it doesn’t mess with your pacing though.
  5. Remove conjunctions. Have you varied the length of your sentences?  Long sentences use many conjunctions and we can cut them when we reduce and vary the length of our sentences.
  6. Cut unnecessary words. Does the omission of a word change the meaning of the sentence? If not, cut it. Words like that, the, like, pretty, very don’t add to the meaning or can be replaced by stronger words.

Your story

And then, we need to make changes to our stories to reduce our word count.

  1. Reduce scenes. Are you including backstory or explaining your character’s behaviour in a scene that can be summed up in a line of dialogue?
  2. Reduce characters. Does your character need a BFF, a therapist and a patient barman to lend an ear? One of those should do the trick.
  3. Reduce settings. Each of these characters mentioned above usually comes with a setting of their own. Reduce the character and the setting and you will save words on unnecessary descriptions.
  4. Cut subplot. Short stories rarely have time or space for a subplot.
  5. Show, don’t tell. Change interior thought to action or dialogue.
  6. Reduce the scope or timeframe of your story. A lifetime is easier to fit into a longer story and a moment is easier to use for a shorter story.

I hope these tips will help you write 750 words that really pack a punch.

Happy writing.

P.S. Remember to join the challenge here: 12 Short Stories

If you want to learn how to write a short story, join us for Short Cuts. If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

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