How to Edit Your Own Short Story

Congratulations! You’ve finished your short story. The next step before turning it over to publishers is to edit it for vital story properties such as clarity, intrigue, flow, and mechanics. Finding an editor can prove difficult and expensive, but if you go about it with tact and strategy, editing your short story yourself might yield good results. Though editing can be exhausting, there are a few strategies I find helpful when I write creatively. (For a more detailed step-by-step guide to editing your own story, check out this article on The Write Practice.)

One of the most important parts of editing is to take a break between when you’ve finished writing and when you begin your editing. I’m not exactly sure why, but I find that I always catch more errors when I revisit a story I haven’t worked on in a while.

Once you’ve given it a sufficient amount of time, the next step is to start your revision on a broader scale (rather than focusing on the details) by looking over the story structure. One suggestion is to take notes in the margins about what each paragraph does. Each paragraph should move your story forward in some way and should contribute to the story’s key structural components: the inciting incident, the buildup, the climax, and the resolution.

Your next steps are to revise for key story elements: setting, clarity, and intrigue. You want to make sure to give as many sensory details as possible in order to build the world your character lives in and make it feel more vivid and real. Then you want to make sure that you’re getting your point across to the reader and not hiding it behind confusing or distracting subplots. Finally, you should get rid of any parts you find boring or tedious to read, as you might lose your readers there.

Now that you’ve gotten the heavy lifting done, it’s time to go back and edit for grammar, punctuation, dialogue, clichés, and undescriptive or vague language. In this stage, it’s a good idea to make sure that your story consists of showing and not telling and that you don’t begin too many sentences with “I.”

The final piece of advice I have is to read your story out loud to yourself. The British literary editor, novelist, and memoirist Diana Athill once said of the writing process: “read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are okay. (Prose rhythms are too subtle and complex to be thought out—they can be got right only by ear.)” I’ve adhered strictly to this advice, because as Athill suggests, I’ve found no other way to ensure that my story sounds right, and I always end up making changes after hearing the difference.

You’ve reached the end of your journey! Not every publisher needs your work to be 100 percent polished and ready to go, but doing as much editing as possible before submitting your story is the best way to increase your chances of getting published and having your voice heard by the world.

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