Tag Archives: first draft process

#SaystheEditor: When Short Gets Long


It was supposed to be a quickie road trip. In, out. Lots of time in the car and not nearly enough with the family. But when you’re with your favorite cousin (sorry gang, but ’tis true. Always has been), when air traffic goes down in DC, stranding a teen roughly the same age as your own and you want to be backup just in case the next three planes don’t fly (two didn’t), well, the short little visit got to be longer.

What’s this got to do with writing and editing? Well, I’m a day behind, that’s for sure! I’d planned to take last Friday off for the long trip down. And I’ll admit that I’d played with the idea of staying to yesterday. Just hadn’t expected to.

But more to the point. I run out of fingers and toes, those essential counting implements, when I try to think of the number of author friends and clients who have tried to write a short story or novella, only to realize there was more story there than they originally wanted to tell. Same thing for the friends and clients who outline before they write. The story takes hold and takes over.

And that’s my point today (although I really really want to rant about the misspelled book title. Seriously? People, you give literature a bad name!). To give in, to cede control every now and then. Let the story take you where it needs to go. Let it reveal itself, its twists and turns, its neat little character traits, to you. Let it be the proverbial onion that you peel away, layer by layer, ring by ring.

This is a first draft technique, to be honest. I’ve edited books where the author has let the plot get away from them and they haven’t been able to see it happening. (In these cases, I advocate scene cards) Their book turns into a hot mess and it’s next to impossible for me to straighten it out because at this phase, I don’t know what story you are trying to tell. Only you know which elements of the unwieldy plot are the ones you want to bring out. I can only make suggestions and hope they are the right ones.

Which means that yes, I advocate going nuts on your first draft. I say often enough that first drafts are for finding out where the story ends. Then, through revision and work with beta readers, figure out how to make the beginning and middle match your ending. (If you get into trouble along the way, or if you think you’ve got it but aren’t 100% certain, then you should bring in a content editor, either myself or a good friend of mine.)

Writing is a craft, remember.

But it’s in this early stage that short becomes long. This is the time to give control to the story. To extend your trip by a day because you truly don’t want to leave (is a move in my future?) or to turn a short story into a novel.

Then go back and winnow it down. Figure out what you put there because you, the author, need to know this information. Figure out what of that information helps you create a living, breathing character but is stuff the reader doesn’t need to know. Less experienced authors, you will be surprised by this! More experienced authors, you’re scoffing and saying yes, you get how it is. But stop scoffing a moment and go back to a time when you were struggling with this concept. And then take a good, hard look at your own manuscripts. Just to be on the safe side.

My extended trip gave me a lot to think about. It widened my horizons (and let me set foot in another National Park… another one I’ve got unfinished business with) and let me experience things I hadn’t expected to.

I’m a better person for it. And when I sit down to write and edit, it’ll make me a better writer and editor.

Happy writing. Happy revisions. And don’t forget to book your editing slots; fall’s filling up!