You can learn a lot about the art of editing from different types of writers. Poets and songwriters understand the value of making every word count. One writer I’ve learned a great deal from in this regard is Bruce Springsteen.
Although best known to most of the world as a stadium-filling rock legend, Springsteen is actually a hell of a short story writer. His early albums up to around “Born in the USA” are full of songs that any short story writer would kill for delivered over the space of a few verses. The apotheosis of his story style of writing is probably the album “Nebraska” – ten tales of desperate people living in the desperate times on the margins of Reagan’s America.
“There was something in those stories of hers that I felt captured a certain part of the American character that I was interested in writing about. They were a big, big revelation. She got to the heart of some part of meanness that she never spelled out, because if she spelled it out you wouldn't be getting it. It was always at the core of every one of her stories-the way that she'd left that hole there, that hole that's inside of everybody. There was some dark thing-a component of spirituality-that I sensed in her stories, and that set me off exploring characters of my own. She knew original sin - knew how to give it the flesh of a story. She had talent and she had ideas, and the one served the other.I think I'd come out of a period of my own writing where I'd been writing big, sometimes operatic, and occasionally rhetorical things. I was interested in finding another way to write about those subjects, about people, another way to address what was going on around me and in the country-a more scaled-down, more personal, more restrained way of getting some of my ideas across. ”
From the two murderous teenagers of the title track, through the debt-ridden couple in “Atlantic City” to the Highway Patrolman pursuing his deadbeat brother to the Canadian border. Like the best flash fiction, Springsteen creates a rich cast of characters each with a tale to tell and delivers them with an economy of style yet still manages to convey a rich tapestry of images from the dark underbelly of the American Dream.
Listen and learn.