How to Keep a Short Story Short

How to Keep a Short Story Short

Jan 25, 2022 | Guest Post, Latest, Writing Help

So you want to write a short story? Awesome!

I am not going to tell you how to do it. It’s not that I don’t like you, it’s just that there are already numerous articles out there to help get you started. I recommend this one: Ten Tips for Writing Great Short Stories

What I am going to do is focus on one of the most important and dreaded aspects of short story writing, that is, keeping it short.

Yes, I am going to tell you how to ruthlessly chop your masterpiece to bits! Not only will this help you meet the word count requirement for our contest, but it will also make your writing flow better in general.

I can feel you tensing up. You’re thinking, but I love this scene, this character, this joke…

Cutting stuff out can be a tortuous task, but it is a critical part of the process. Trust me, in the end you’ll be happy you did it.

Here are four tips to help you get through it.

Tip #1. Remember Nothing Goes to Waste

Maybe you wrote a character you just love. He’s funny and charming, but he’s not critical to the plot. You can save space by removing him, but you don’t want to.

Whenever I have to cut a character I love, I remind myself that I can reuse that character in another story. Even if I can’t use him exactly as he is, I can create a new variation.

Anytime I cut anything out, I dump it into a separate word document instead of deleting it. Over the years, I have recycled dozens of jokes, characters, and other story elements. Most of the time, the element in its recycled form ends up being better than it would have been if I had kept it in the original story.

Sometimes, when I cut material from a short story, I end up including it in a direct sequel. I once expanded a series of short stories into a novel re-adding material I had to cut for space.

Just because you cut something, doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. So don’t be afraid to be ruthless.

Tip #2. Combine and Simplify

Do you have two characters who act as a wise mentor to the protagonist? Can you combine them?

Does your story take place in three locations? Can it take place only in one?

The answer to these questions will depend on the nature of your story, but as a general rule combine and simplify as much as possible.

Your hero should not need to retrieve two magical MacGuffins when the story would work just as well with one.

Tip #3. Don’t Get Caught Up in the Details

If I wanted to write a story about a girl trying to save swimmers from shark attacks at the Jersey shore, I wouldn’t start with a long explanation of how the United States government works.

Yet this is often how writers approach fantasy stories—by explaining every conceivable detail about our imaginary world.

Does the name of the New Jersey governor really matter in your shark attack story? Probably not.

Does the name of the king really matter in your fairy tale? It depends on the story. If it doesn’t, then don’t include it.

Tip #4. Make Every Word Count

What sounds better?

“Joe was really, really, angry.”


“Joe was furious.”

The second sentence is two words shorter and packs a bigger emotional punch.

In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he recommends removing adverbs. He says that if you need to use an adverb, your verb isn’t strong enough.

Look at these two sentences:

“Joe ran quickly across the lawn.”
“Joe sprinted across the lawn.”

Every time you cut and combine words, you gain word count and your writing becomes more impactful.

Incidentally, I am not a horror fan. Stephan King’s book On Writing is the only of his books I have ever read, and I highly recommend it to all aspiring writers.

So that’s it. Four tips for shortening your story.

What did I miss? If you have any advice, please leave a comment!

I can’t wait to read your stories!

Guest: Katy Campbell: I am a Catholic humorist and lover of fairy tales. I prefer the gory originals to the squeaky clean Disney retellings but will gladly consume both. I graduated from John Paul the Great Catholic University in 2012 with a B.S. in Communications Media and recently left my real job to pursue a career as a starving author. I’ve published three books and numerous short stories which you can find on my website:


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