Revising fiction can be complicated. You change something here, and you need to follow those changes right through the novel. Revising short stories is a lot less complicated. If you remember motivation, your stories will not only be more satisfying for readers, they’ll also be a lot more fun to write.
What’s Your Motivation?
Short stories are short, by definition. They’re also easy to unbalance.
Here’s an example. You’re writing a mystery. In your first scene, you introduce your sleuth, and he investigates the dead body. Magic: your mystery is on track. The following scenes will include misdirection, red herrings, and clues.
Somewhere in there, you need to do a little characterization. You give your sleuth a toddler. As kids will, the kid takes over. Before you know it, the first draft of well-planned story isn’t a mystery. It’s a story about a single father who just happens to be a detective.
You decide the kid has to go. She’s a nuisance. Not so fast. Yes, eliminate the scene in which the kid appears, but keep the kid. She’s motivation. Instead of giving her most of a scene, have daddy-sleuth thinking about the kid: her chubby fists, her curls… Your sleuth is determined to catch the murderer, because he doesn’t want the murderer running around free in the same world as his daughter.
Motivation Makes Revision Much Easier.
In real life, you want something just because you want it. In fiction, you’re motivated to want something because_______ (fill in the blank.)
When I’m helping students with revision, everything becomes simpler once they fix on a motivation for each of their characters. A character comes alive. He or she starts to make sense. You can rapidly weed out paragraphs and entire scenes, because they’re no longer necessary.
If you’ve overloaded your novel or short story with “telling” – narrative – rather than scenes, you can eliminate much of it, because you don’t need it. Once you’ve motivated your characters, you don’t need a lot of telling. Scenes are easy to write.
Try it. When you’re revising fiction, ask yourself what your character’s primary motivation is. Your revision will go much more swiftly.
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