Sunday, February 21, 2016

How Editing Flash Fiction Helped me Edit a Novel

I really like words. A lot. In fact, I enjoy writing so much that I often have a hard time saying exactly what I mean in few words. Yes, it’s achievable, but I find it much easier to write ALL MY THOUGHTS when I should keep things short and simple. This has pros and cons. For one, writing essays is (sometimes) easier. As is coming up with a novel. Because once I have an idea, I already have 3 or more subplots and a character death or two already planned out.

But there can be beauty in simplicity too.

Although I wrote my first novel at twelve, I didn’t get my first story published until I was seventeen. And it was a piece of flash fiction—less than 1,000 words. While I haven’t stopped writing novels, I went on to publish two more flash fiction pieces before I decided to tackle editing a novel.

I knew such a project would be more ambitious than any I had attempted before. Sure, I had edited a novel before, back when I was fourteen, but nothing ever became of the project aside from my learning experience. So it was that I approached a 72,000-word story and decided to completely re-work it until I was pleased or close to satisfied or ready to give up with frustration because goodness, why can’t novels edit themselves?

During my multi-draft process, of rewriting and editing, and receiving feedback from my beta readers and my editor, I learned a valuable lesson. Editing what became a novel story really wasn’t that different from editing a 1,000-word one. But what, you may ask, could editing flash fiction and editing a novel possibly have in common?

1.     Flash fiction and novels both have word limits.

Wait a minute. Aren’t novels SIGNIFICANTLY longer than short stories? Yes, they are. But unless you’re writing War and Peace or The Lord of the Rings, you’re going to face some restrictions on how many words your novel can have. Too short, and you’re writing a novella. Too long, and your story probably won’t be taken seriously by a publisher/literary agent.

Different novels will have different restrictions depending on the genre. Young adult, for example, can be anywhere from 50,000-80,000 words. But since I like long books, I decided to add some things to my novel and ended up with 90,000 words in draft 2.

That’s where my previous experience editing flash fiction came in handy. I was already used to cutting words, paragraphs, and scenes trying to get a short story below 1,000 words, so I used the same basic principles with my novel. Basically, if it a sentence didn’t contribute to the plot, I cut it. If a paragraph bored me, I cut it. If I questioned a scene’s very necessity and worth, I cut it.

In the end, I managed to trim my bulky 90,000-word novel down to a neat 79,765 words, just within the recommended limits for a YA novel.

2.     Flash fiction and novels both have plot.

I should think this one is quite obvious. But just because flash fiction is short doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the basic structure of a novel. Although the inciting incident and the climax may not be nearly as drawn out as in a novel, short stories still have them.

Personally, writing flash fiction pieces helped me most with these two points. If I couldn’t figure out where to start the story right away, I would write WAY over 1,000 words and have to scrap the entire story. But once I figured out the perfect opening lines, the rest fell into place.

Except for the ending. Writing endings are easy. Writing GOOD endings are the bane of my existence. But trying out different endings over the course of multiple drafts was really helpful in writing flash fiction. It helped me realize how much I struggle with them and how helpful it can be to receive feedback on such plot points prior to submissions. I would not have been able to write ANY good endings without the help of my friends. 

3.     Writing and editing flash fiction and novels both taught me that being a writer is a TON of work.

And I mean a TON. Personally, I worked with a lot of drafts in my novel. So many, I lost count, but I’d estimate close to five. That’s a 1) rough draft, 2) a rewrite, 3) first round of feedback, 4) second round of feedback, and 5) professional and final edits.

Actually, this is pretty decent, considering most of my flash fiction stories underwent five to seven rounds of edits before they were ready for publication. So five drafts over the period of several months felt pretty good.

Of course, every writer is different, so the editing process and time is bound to vary from writer to writer. But if you can’t handle the process and effort of editing a 1,000-word story, editing a 50,000-or-more-word story is probably not for you.


Basically, the main difference between editing a flash fiction piece and editing a novel is time. Flash fiction can take a couple of hours, maybe a day, but a novel can take weeks if not months. 

So if you usually write novel-length projects, don’t be afraid to try something different. Like a flash fiction piece. Or a couple blog posts. All writing is a learning experience. And if you’ve completed a novel-length story but haven’t edited it yet, what are you waiting for?

How many drafts does it usually take you to polish a story? Have you ever considered writing something aside from your usual length? If you have done so, what did you learn?

Enjoyed this piece? Check out my flash fiction: “Blue Ribbon,” “The List,” and “The Lamb’s Brook of Life.”


  1. Ooh, editing is a toughie. I totally related when you said "why can't they just edit themselves". OMG I AGREE. WHYYYY?!?! It'd make life so much easier... ;D

    I honestly suck at writing short stories or flash fiction, but I figure I stretch myself by writing articles/blog posts enough...otherwise everything I write would be a 50K+ novel hehe. But my editing process is basically different from book to book. The contemporary I wrote early last year only went through one rewrite after I drafted it, and then two rounds of editing. Whereas a ghost story I wrote has been through 3 complete redrafts and still needs more editing. XD hehe.

    It's all good and awesome though! I do like that editing teaches me things about my writing and it is SO NECESSARY. I just like to complain about it a lot. ;D

    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    1. If editing was easy, everybody would do it. Then where would all the dedicated writers be?

      I like that your editing process varies. Every story is different, and some definately require more work than others.

      Thanks for the comment!