The Craft of Editing a Very Short Story


Lydia Davis, an author of “very short stories” for more than 40 years, described her editing process in feature for The Atlantic. The image above contains the original handwritten text. She then made these edits:

1. The two dogs and two cats, as well as the mice, were part of my real situation, but I probably felt that they lessened the ominousness of the story, and certainly that the lack of “acknowledgement” of the mice was chatty and distracting.

2. The addition of “where they cowered in” adds explicit drama. Kitchen has comfortable associations (until one has to cower in it).

3. The change from smoke to rain replaces something inaudible with something audible.

4. Ending the story on the phrase in a house besieged is stronger than the rather anticlimactic and irrelevant in a house that belonged to someone else, which is confusing, adding new information, and beside the point.

5. By the time of the final version, I knew how to spell besieged.

…before committing the final version to print:


Editing makes writing so much better—even when it requires some compromise.


Link + Images: Lydia Davis’s Very Short Stories


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