How to Revise and Edit Your Short Story in 10 Easy Steps

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Writing a novel or a short story is hard work, but for many aspiring authors the much harder part is revising that first draft into something fit to send out into the wide world. Here are be useful tips on how to go about it. to an external site.

Step 1: Preparation

Use a mixture of electronic and paper-based editing, as you’ll find that switching between the two keeps things fresh, but you can adapt the mix to your personal preference.

Step 2: Novel summary

On the first page of your notebook, write a one-sentence summary of the plot. It needs to include the protagonist and antagonist, the conflict between them, and the twist – what makes this plot cool and interesting. Note that this is not quite the same as your pitch/tag line. You’re not trying to sell the book, you’re trying to capture the essence of the story to use as a yardstick against which your manuscript will be measured. Website

Step 3: The Read-through

Next you need a reading copy of your manuscript. Do this on your iPad, as it’s closer to the experience of actually reading a book. If you do it this way, you’ll need an ereader that allows you to annotate a document, and preferably a dedicated app – I’m told that although you can use iBooks, for example, it tends to slow down horribly once you have more than a few dozen annotations in there.

What you’re focusing on with this step is the fable storyLinks to an external site.. You have to read like a reader, not like a writer. Every time you find yourself being pulled out of the story by anything other than clunky sentences, make a note.

Step 4: Identify your plots and subplots

Pretty much every novel has subplots – without them, your story is going to feel thin and under-developed. You might have a romance subplot, a character story arc that’s separate from the main plot, or a parallel plot that is linked thematically with the main plot. All of these will add richness to your story.

Step 5: (Re)outline


In order to get a bird’s-eye view of the whole book, it’s essential to have an outline. Even if you never use an outline whilst creating your first draft, it’s invaluable in the revision stage, because it’s damned hard to hold 100,000+ words of prose in your head. Hence, the next stage is to go through the manuscript and create one index card per scene.


Step 6: Listing the story elements

Once the current draft has been mapped onto index cards, go through the manuscript again, this time identifying every notable character and location (including ships, if sea travel is part of the story), and their first appearance in the book. Highlight them in the manuscript and put a number in the margin, and list these same details in your notebook.

Step 7: Fixing the plot

Now comes the fun part – playing with the index cards! With your read-through notes to hand, go through the cards and assess whether each scene is pulling its weight. Hopefully the scene is basically sound but maybe needs a minor plot-point fixed or the pace needs tightening, or perhaps it would work better in a different PoV.

Step 8: Revising for story

This is the meat of the work. Now it’s just a process of slogging through the manuscript, chapter by chapter, implementing the changes you planned in Step 7. You’ll find that occasionally you’ll have to backtrack slightly and tweak a revised scene to set up or foreshadow a new plot twist that just occurred to me, but the emphasis is on moving steadily forward.

Step 9: Polishing the prose

This is the editing step that most people are familiar with: fixing typos and continuity errors (like a character’s eye color changing from one chapter to the next), rewriting clunky dialogue and editorial textLinks to an external site., cutting or expanding descriptions. There are plenty of books that cover the nuts and bolts of editing.

Step 10: Aaand…relax!

Seriously, reward yourself for all that hard work. You now have a much stronger manuscript than when you started this process, and you deserve to celebrate it.

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