Make Every Word Count (Short Stories 101)

Our first anthology, Realm of Magic, will be published soon and that means our second anthology (genre romance) isn’t far behind. Submissions close in just a couple of weeks, and I know some of you are sweating over your word count right now, trying to get it down below that 5,000 mark. If you’ve submitted one major story already, you may even be trying to get it down below that 3,000 mark to qualify. It’s not easy to cut things out of your story, and most people don’t want to delete entire scenes that may be crucial to the plot. You may not be able to remove chunks to make it follow our guidelines, but there’s another thing you can try instead.

Make Every Word Count

One thing I’ve noticed through selecting and editing the submissions: some writers manage to jam-pack a whole lot into a small word count, while others spend a lengthy amount of time on only a couple scenes. If those scenes are where your story takes place, so be it. But if you find yourself having to cut your story down to just a couple scenes for it to qualify, you may want to look at removing filler words and condensing sentences before you throw an entire setting away.

Simple is best. You need to make every word count in a short story. If one sentence kind of explains what’s happening but the second sentence clarifies it, delete the first sentence. Edit the second to make sure its meaning is clear and can stand alone. Here’s an example from the novel I’m working on right now (Reigning Fire—The Aldurian Chronicles Book 3). I’m always going through and removing redundant sentences like this:

“Shut up!” I released the leukos I’d been absorbing. It exploded from my core, hitting him in full force.

It’s a fantasy novel, so ignore the weird words.

These two sentences are repetitive. I can merge them together to keep the intended meaning.

“Shut up!” Leukos exploded from my core, hitting him in full force. 

I could rework that to make it even tighter—and I will later—but I wanted to give you a simple example of how to clear out redundant sentences and shorten your word count.

Another way to shorten word count is to cut out unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. When you’re setting a scene or describing a character, get to the point and then move on to the action. Less is more. Use one or two informative helper words versus three or four that don’t really offer anything to the story. Don’t neglect description altogether, but make sure you use words to your advantage here. Many times a bigger word can replace a few small words. That saves your word count for harder to describe situations or scenes that are a bit more complex.

I’m not saying grab your thesaurus and replace every small phrase you can find with a word your reader would have to look up to understand, but be mindful as you’re writing to consider concise ways of expressing yourself.

Prepositions also tend to fill the pages in a story. Training yourself to look for and remove the ones that aren’t needed can give you more room to develop your characters or plot down the road.

Always skip the dull parts. A short story should be well-paced. There is little room for messing around, so if you can develop your characters without having to slow the plot, you’re going to have a much more powerful story in the end.

As you’re editing your story and trying to cut down that word count, go into it with the mindset of making every word count and it will be much easier to let go of parts that might offer poetic prose but offer nothing in way of character or plot progression.

However, something more important to keep in mind: clarity trumps brevity. Your sentences need to be clear before they are concise. You can’t cut out vital information for the sake of staying under that word limit. Get creative. Find a way to clarify your story without spending a long time explaining it.

And remember, for the Writers Unite! Anthologies Series, you have a 5,000 word allowance for your first story with no minimum requirement! We have received stories that range from 200-5,000 words so far, with some poems being a bit under that range. We’ve had some great stories come in through the submissions portal, and eagerly await YOUR submission.

But you have to be a Writers Unite! member to contribute.

Join the Facebook group Writers Unite! here to get the details on submitting to our current anthology: Writers Unite! Facebook Group


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strong-willed—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

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