How to Edit a Short Story

You know the characters better than you know your neighbors. You haven't seen the light of day in about a week, but at last the story is finished. Or is it? Believe it or not, your piece of writing is not yet complete; you still have to edit it.


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    Take a break. It doesn't have to be a long one, just enough to achieve an objective viewpoint.
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    Write a two- or three-sentence description of your story. You may have done this in creating the original draft; however, characters sure have a way of dragging the writer all over the place. The story may have changed focus.
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    Use a red marker to cross out any scenes that do not relate to the description you have just written. Don't worry if the remaining scenes aren't transitioning well yet, that step is further down.
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    Circle or underline with a green marker any of the following: character and scenery descriptions, expositions and flashbacks.
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    Cross out these "pace-slowers" with the red marker until there is no more than 20-40% of the tale for genre and about 40-60% for literary stories.
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    Print out what remains.
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    Read this new copy with the red marker in hand. Make notes in the margins.
    • "T" for anyplace that needs a transition.
    • "A" for anything that is awkwardly phrased.
    • "C" for any character based inconsistencies. For example, if your character is allergic to dairy, but in one scene s/he is eating ice cream, this needs to be explained, eliminated, or altered.
    • "?" for anything else. For example, if it makes you ask the question "Where in the world did this (character / word / etc.) come from?" then it needs a "?".
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    Review and repair any areas that you tagged with a question mark.
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    Fix any transitions and awkward phrasing.
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    Print out another copy with the new edits.
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    Repeat steps 3-10 until you are happy with the way the general story looks.
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    Read it aloud to make sure the text flows smoothly. Use your red marker like you did in step 7 in case of awkwardness, etc.
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    Repeat steps 8-12 if need be.
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    Polish up by fixing grammar and spelling errors.


  • If you'll be submitting the tale to anywhere which requires a specific word count (such as a teacher or a magazine) worry about that after you finish your edits, not before.
  • A good idea is to chart out a map of any locations that your characters will be at more than once. It doesn't need to be highly detailed, just enough so that Mr. Smith's not across the street from Mr. Jones in one scene and his neighbor in another. Same goes for any houses your characters may live in so bedrooms don't move from the first floor to the second.
  • If the tale required a lot of research in an area you are not an expert in, make sure to double and triple check your facts as if it were an article.
  • When you're taking a breather, the best activities to do are physical ones. Shoot some hoops, take a walk around the neighborhood, play with the kids or anything that is so far distanced from writing it will somewhat distract you from your story.
  • Understanding the direction your story takes is crucial. Try to visualize it before writing it!


  • Do not throw out early drafts at least until you are satisfied with the final one. Some say you should never throw out any drafts at all. You never know if you'll need a scene or character that you tossed out in the first or third draft when you're on your fifth.

Things You'll Need

  • Red marker
  • Green marker
  • Computer with word processing and printing capabilities

Article Info

Categories: Editing and Style