Go back to your last completed exercise or narrative. Read through it. Cross out your "darling" lines and passages. Revise. Read it again. What changes with the omission of those precious lines or passages?
Killing your "darlings" is not easy. And sometimes, your "darlings" really are great sentences. Think of shelving them if you cannot let them go. While that line about persimmons may need to be cut from this narrative, it might be perfect for another piece.
Keep a list of sacrificed "darlings," the lines you had to cut. Come back to them for writing prompts or use one as a catalyst for a new story.
Eliminate clutter and kill those lines—the first two steps of revision. And they are large first steps. It is useful to focus on one or two aspects of revision, initially, and to let those changes rest. Set aside your story for another period of time. The distance you take from your writing will increase your critical response. When you return to your draft a second time, consider your narrative's structure through the lens of the questions below:
• Does the story move effectively from one scene to the next?
• Does it make too much sense? That is, are too many details and chronologies explained?
• Is the reader allowed to "meet" the characters through dialogue and action?
• Does the ending satisfy?
I once heard that an effective ending leaves you satisfied and simultaneously hungry for more. Pay close attention to your ending. The most important aspects of the story often appear at the end. Sometimes, the story actually begins where it ends.
This is a revision technique I learned in graduate school. It consistently produces interesting results when thoughtfully applied. It will require you to rethink your narrative; allow yourself some flexibility.
1. Reread the entire narrative. Choose a sentence or two sentences from the last paragraph of the narrative. You should choose the most interesting lines from the story's end.
2. Rewrite your narrative using the line(s) as the first sentence(s). This instruction is not asking you to insert the last lines into the story's current opening paragraph. Instead, let the story emerge from the new first sentences.
An exercise like this one can seriously disrupt your relationship to your narrative. By disrupting your familiarity with the story, you allow yourself to discover or recover subtext and conflict that you may have obscured. You force yourself to think about the story from another direction. In doing so, you may create an entirely new story or simply hone the existing one.
You may not like the results of the exercise and choose to return to your original format. In the process, if you identified why the original is better, you have become better acquainted with your own structural impulses, which will help you with future revisions.
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