5 Tips for Editing Short Stories

Earlier this week I uploaded a post about how to edit poetry. Today I wanted to share a checklist of five different tips you can use when editing short stories:

  1. Read it out loud. The #1 tip for editing any style of writing is to read your work out loud. Why is that? When we read our writing out loud, it’s easier for us to spot grammatical errors, wordiness, repetitive phrasing, and much more.
  2. Check for consistency. This is especially helpful for character development. I like to read through a story to make sure if I brought up a small detail about a character, for example a character who doesn’t like fruit, that I take time to read through my entire story and make sure I keep this fact consistent throughout the story. I find when I write a story over a long period of time, I can forget small details and fail to deliver on consistency.
  3. “Trim the fat.” I also gave this tip in my post on how to edit poetry but for short stories the way you can accomplish this is different. Instead of trying to cut down words sentence by sentence, think of this more broadly. If you have clich├ęs, if you have an extremely long introduction that doesn’t contribute to the story, or if you have filler words, try to cut down on these as much as possible. This will help your story have a more efficient impact on the reader that doesn’t linger on unnecessary details or wording.
  4. There should be multiple drafts. I can’t recommend the exact number of drafts you should write before you’re finished with your short story. What I can say for sure, is that the first draft should not be the same as the final draft. It is exciting to finish a piece of work, especially a short story which can take a much longer time than other styles of work. After you finish your first draft, take a break, the break could be a few days long even. Then come back and read your first draft again. After a break you’ll be able to read your work with more objectivity. Repeat this cycle until you’re satisfied with the end product. Each draft will most likely have less and less edits. If your second draft looks extremely different from your first draft, don’t be alarmed! It’s okay. Sometimes we need the freedom to write down out ideas but once we read it, we realize that it didn’t pan out as well as we originally hoped it would. That’s okay and that’s part of the fun of the editing process, we’ll find a way to work through it and produce an amazing end product.
  5. My last tip is the same as it was for editing poetry; share your work! Sharing your work with friends and asking for feedback will help you find ways to improve that you might not have found on your own. Everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to sharing their work but sharing your story with at least one person that you trust to give constructive feedback will help you grow as a writer. If you are comfortable, I would strongly recommend sharing your work with more than one person since people’s opinions and critiques may vary. Sharing your work with at least a small group of people can help you get a general consensus on your stories strengths and weaknesses.

I find the editing process the most difficult for any type of writing that I post. I didn’t have a strong method until after I graduated college and I’m still learning on how to improve my method every day. This is to help any beginner or any writer that needs a refresher, come up with an editing method that works for them.

What does your editing process look like?

The Beginner’s Guide to Mindful Editing

This post is for all of my poets out there who are new to editing, struggle with editing, or just need a refresher. This guide is giving tips on how to edit poetry and then later this week I will be posting a guide on how to edit short stories.

Editing has always been my biggest struggle with writing. I either get so excited after I finish a draft that I want my work out there immediately or I don’t even know where to begin with editing and I grow frustrated. After taking a few classes and talking to other writers I’ve developed a method that I am going to share with all of you.

Step 1: Congratulations, you’ve finished your draft! You have one of two options here. Honestly I do both, depending on what I’ve written and if it has a deadline. You can either continue into the editing process or take a break. Taking a day long break, an hour long break, etc. can help you clear your mind and come back with a more objective view to continue editing your new poem.

Step 2: Once you’re ready to move onto the editing process, simple read through your poem a couple of times. Don’t edit anything. Just get a feel for what you’ve written and see if anything stands out.

Step 3: “Trim the fat.” Ask yourself this, can a convey an even stronger message if I take out some of the “fluff” wording that may not need to be there? Sometimes this can feel very personal to a writer because we spend so long on our writing that it seems strange to turn around and try to trim it down, but you’d be surprise at how much more powerful your message can be once you cut out some words or even lines.

Step 4: Are you using one word too much? Do you have a word that doesn’t quite fit? Try using a thesaurus to look for synonyms. You don’t want to necessarily change the meaning of the word you’re using but it needs a slight tweak, right? Then try your best to find a synonym! This is always a good habit to get into because a lot of us are guilty of having what I call “comfort words.” Words we routinely use in multiple pieces. The more variety the better!

Step 5: I like to do one or two times, it’s a scan solely for grammar. I’m far from perfect when it comes to grammar so I need to take extra time to review it. The two things I’m most guilty of are misusing commas and incomplete sentences. If you were going to read this poem out loud where would you take pauses? This is a trick that might help you with punctuation.

Step 6: Visual aesthetic. Now your poem sounds grammatically correct but does it visually appear how you want it to? If you want to shape it a certain way or add in visual art, now is the time to do so. Just remember to ask yourself, does the visual aesthetic contribute to the message of the poem? Making a bold aesthetic choice that aligns with the poem’s message can make for an even better experience for the reader.

Step 7: If you haven’t already taken a break, you should do so now. After these edits sometimes I take a break and sit back down to re-read it. From here I’ll either go through the fully editing process again or just make final touches.

Step 8: Share your work! Where people are comfortable sharing their work varies for everyone but I’m a firm believer that you should share your work somewhere. Whether it’s on a blog, on social media, with your friends or family, in a class. It doesn’t matter! The constructive feedback and affirmation you get from others will help you grow so much as a writer.

Feel free to comment on this post with additional steps that you take for your editing process!