Know when to stop

Learning to be concise.

Spoiler warning for yesterday's story

There was a point while writing Beneath the ferns that I could've let my hero live. She’d finally figured out what killed her team and was fighting back. I almost allowed her to escape but then stopped.

Once she was free, then what? She was still in the mountain valley, surrounded by the enemy and in peril. If I were to help her out of it, I’d need a lot more words and time. But I wanted to get it done quickly, so I changed the outcome.

Often I tell my students not to make their writing do too much. I give them a set page limit—3 pages each week—to tell their story. If it goes over that, I quit reading. Part of the reason is that I don’t want to read 30 or 60 more pages, but it’s also to learn conciseness.

It’s crucial to figure out what your story is about—the single idea that encompasses it. If you have the time, you can extend it. But if you are trying to deliver a small, quick story, you need to know when to stop.