We might think of a story (any story) as a series of pulses. A pulse might be a scene, but, really, it’s a unit of meaning. What makes a story a story is the way one pulse leads to the next, which produces that lovely story-feeling. (“Ah, this led to that.”)
A story’s beauty has something to do with the feeling that what is created in one pulse is then used (seen, noticed, accepted, honored) by the next pulse; by the feeling that we are inside a non-random system, being well cared-for by the author in a way that feels like we're in a One-Way street.There are all sorts of ways to think about stories, and, none of these are right or definitive. They are just ways of looking somewhat rationally at what is ultimately mysterious and irreducible. But we make these models to help us understand what it was that pleased us about a story. The notion of reducing your story idea into pulses enables scrutiny as to the value of words and phrases.
So you can flesh out your story idea by first listing the pulses that are the skeleton of the story.
You can then add your words to each pulse. Go ahead and put down the words for each pulse and then prepare yourself to review the story, pulse by pulse.
Let’s start by asking two questions sacred to the short story writer: 1) “Hey, why is this bit in here anyway?” and 2) “Can I cut it?”
These are good questions to get in the habit of asking, especially of our own stories. We might see ourselves as bouncers in "Club Story". (“Excuse me, "Section" – what are you doing in here, exactly? Is this party just as good without you? Or are you subtly improving it, in a way that makes the lines you require worth it?”)
A story is intolerant of repeated information. It loves escalation. It loves new detail when the detail is specific and changes the moral calculus of the story even slightly.
What I’m really doing is modeling a certain (intense, admittedly obsessive) approach to editing. This approach involves constantly looking for new efficiencies. It’s something I am constantly doing as I’m writing. I also try to stay open to the idea of moving things around – switching the order of events and sections and so on.
I’ve outlined a pretty strict ethos about the short story, which is not for everyone, for sure. But within that ethos….us writers must grasp that words are expensive. Sections cost us. Everything has to earn its keep – although the ways in which they do this can be very subtle. (And, again, disclaimer: this severity is not for everyone and, for some people, trying to think this way is decidedly unhelpful. We might even “severity” ourselves into silence.)