I am new to this group but not new to writing in many forms...

I have a great story that flows from my fingers -- got it to about 1500 words - but it must be 1000 for a competition. This has taken me more hours editing than I can count - and I am not there yet. (There is a specific chord I need to hit to cause conflict for the reader - perhaps I am obsessing).

Now, I am wondering if the difficulty in reaching the word limit is due to my ego getting in the way or is a typical struggle, given the circumstance.

I swear I am taking ego out of it (I look at all I am writing and take out all extra I can find) - and yet I cannot condense... Is this something that happens for short story? How do you approach such a challenge?

  • @DebraR the answer in the possible duplicated answer has a link that you definately should read. It shall help you with setting priorities and structure. Nov 19, 2018 at 9:01
  • This raises a question for me. Many novels are part of a series and have sequels. Can short stories be written in the same way? Is it possible to take your short story and finish it on a so-called cliffhanger that would be resolved in a sequel? It seems unusual—but is it without precedent? (There could be an assumption in the rules for this submission that the short story be completely self-contained.) Nov 19, 2018 at 17:28

2 Answers 2


Some stories simply need more room to breathe. You might be having so much trouble because your story can't lose 1/3 of the words and still tell its tale. 1500 words is not huge to be begin with.

My advice if you're going to go ahead and make the cuts is to take the original and do a save-as so you have it on your computer (or on paper or however you work).

I sometimes agonize over cuts if it means I will never see those words again. What if I want them back? So save them. Sometimes I'll save an older version of an entire chapter (my chapters are mostly around 1500 words) and sometimes I'll put a line or paragraph into a file I have for cuts.

Once you have your copy to mess with, it will be a lot easier to cut what you need to.

Is it ego? I don't know. If you can never make significant cuts to your work, then yeah, maybe it is. But if this story is particularly hard, it might be your inner voice saying, this isn't the right move for this piece.


Keep the original whatever you do, nothing is worth losing good, complete, work.

I agree with Cyn here, if your story takes 1500 words to tell then it does and that's all there is to it. Having said that if you have to try and cut a third out I would take a different tack.

To work out what you can cut, don't look at the narrative you've written, not as a complete collection of words anyway, instead look at the story in terms of conveying meaning. Cut the story down to a series of "what must be said" statements, this lets you see what passages convey the meanings and events that the story is built on and where you can cut content or indeed whole passages that don't directly serve the narrative. I can't give you a full example without including a large narrative passage but here's an example of a mismatch that I hope is demonstrative:

What must be said (the meaning goal of the passage): Spot is a dog.

Sample material that is irrelevant to that goal; "See Spot run, run Spot run."

A passage about Spot's running activities in no way tells us his species; as such we can cut it.

I've done this to narratives when trying to get material from disparate writing sessions lined up into a cohesive whole. It was amazing how little of the overall word count I actually needed to tell the bare bones of the story and how much was window dressing. I kept most of the window dressing because I didn't have a word limit but you can ditch it all and then pull back pieces you love that you can fit in.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.