Self-editing your short story
Queensland writers aged 18 to 25 can submit their story (up to 2,500 words) for a chance to win $2000 and publication in Griffith Review.
Entries close this Friday 15 May!
Quick editing tips
- Don’t edit while writing your first draft. Make sure you finish your story before you start a deep and dedicated edit.
- Before editing, give the story—and yourself—a rest. Try to set it aside for as long as you can—an hour, a day, a week. (Or longer! But remember, Young Writers Award entries close this Friday!)
- Read your story out loud. You can also have text-to-speech software read your story out to you (but I find the robo-voice lacks the cadence of human speech). Note down or directly edit the words, sentences, or sections that don’t sound quite right.
- Print out your story and proofread the hardcopy. Full disclosure: I hardly ever do this. Everyone says you should! But I didn’t have access to a reliable printer until two years ago, so I’m very used to editing on my computer.
- If you’re editing or proofreading on your computer, change the font and the page colour of the document—this can trick your brain into seeing it as a “new” story. When I’m editing, I like to use Comic Sans on a green page.
Character, structure, and language
- Is the right character narrating the story? This matters even if you’re using third person, or a more distanced narrational style.
- Are there too many periphery characters? Do all of the characters add value to the story?
- Do your characters act and react in ways that are consistent with their personalities?
- Does each character have their own distinct “voice” when speaking/in dialogue? Or do they all sound the same?
Editing the structure
- Does every part of your story develop a character or move the story forward? This is pretty essential for short stories, as you’re working with such a limited word count.
- Does the story start as close to the action as possible?
- Is the “weight” of the story correctly distributed? Is the beginning too long? Is the ending too short?
- Have any important plot developments been skimmed over?
- Does the ending achieve closure? Is it satisfying?
Proofreading and editing language
- Is the tense (past, present) of your story consistent?
- Is your spelling and punctuation correct?
- Are you “showing” rather than “telling”? Chuck Palahniuk has written a great article about “thought verbs”, which I’ve found super helpful in editing my own writing.
- Have you wiped out any clichés?
- Does your formatting look the way that it should?