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Collecting, and Discarding, Short Stories

As I prepare my short story collection for 2021 publication, the hardest of all tasks is turning out to be which stories to remove from the collection.

Sure, the short stories I write are as varied as their inspirations, as my contemplations. The ones I initially chose for the collection were my favorites, from recently penned tales to five-year-old drafts that I finally knew how to end. The draft collection contains more than 16 stories and is much too long (150+ pages) for what “general advice” suggests for a book of short stories.

I’m editing and preparing the pages, even as I’m side-eyeing some of the stories, seeking confirmation that they belong in the finished collection’s pages. If I keep one, is it a short story that readers will enjoy and remember, or will some readers wonder why that story was included at all? If I remove a story, its editing will be put on hold — and may stay that way for the length of my natural life, and no one will ever know but me. Am I removing a scene that a reader out there might have benefitted from reading? That might have helped them to acknowledge a shortcoming or face a dilemma? Possibly. One can never be perfectly certain. If I keep said tale, will there be a reader forever enraged by my audacity? This is also a possibility.

For better or worse, it literally (and perhaps literarily) doesn’t matter. My struggles to choose are in a way weightless, useless. I’ll choose the stories I believe are the best of my best and publish them together. If there are a few pages that no reader ever, ever likes, the collection can still provided tales for readers to enjoy, and possibly be enjoyable enough that they recommend it to others.

The tool at my disposal is my willingness to hear from those who read my tales. Editors and beta readers can guide me, and provide me with different views. From the feedback of these “first readers,” I can know how others feel about my stories. Their thoughts provide weight for the scales, to balance which stories have substance, and which are not worthy. Only then will I know what should truly remain, and which should be discarded from the collection.

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