Yesterday I brutally revised and edited one of my stories.
I'd sent it in to my writing group to be anonymously critiqued and the result was, well, quite a mixed bag. Some liked it, some didn't. Most were a little confused about the theme and glitches in the plot were pointed out (some that I'd noticed and some that I hadn't). The leader of my writing group said he could cut it down by 50%. As the story was 2,200 words approx my first reaction was "Yeah right!"
I mentally put the story in a drawer for a few weeks and forgot about the crits. Yesterday I decided to revist the story and see if there was anything worth salvaging. I mentioned in another post that I've been reading "How to Write a Damned Good Novel" by James Frey. I've also read his other book "How to Write Damned Good Fiction" which is very similar but concentrates on short stories rather than novels. Frey says that you shouldn't determine the theme of your story before you write it but, when you come to edit, you need to identify the theme and ruthlessly cut anything that doesn't support it
The theme of my story is, to strip it to a basic equation is:
"a loved ones serious illness + realisation that they have no other friends or family = guilt that no one else will care when they die"
The story is about more than that though. It's about guilt, love and the short sightedness of youth. My story, in its original form was even more complex. It was about repressed emotion, about a fixation with death masks, about friendship groups dwindling over time, about dreams - none of which directly supported the theme. As a result I had to cut ALL of that out.
What was left? 1,300 words approximately! Not quite 50% of the original story but near enough. Admittedly the story does feel a little thin now and I suspect that there's something missing but I do feel I'm starting to get a handle on theme (at last).
The revised story has gone back to my writing group for feedback. I have no idea if they'll like it or not and, if I'm honest, I don't really care. This was a useful exercise, no matter what the outcome. It's all a matter of practice.