How To-15: "How to Edit a Short Story"

How to Edit a Short Story

from wikiHow – The How to Manual That You Can Edit

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? Hardly, you still have to edit it.


  1. Take a breather. It doesn’t have to be a long one, just enough to give yourself enough time to achieve an objective viewpoint.
  2. 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 and the story may have changed focus.
  3. Cross out any scenes with the red marker 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.
  4. Circle or underline with the green marker any of the following: character and scenery descriptions, expositions and flashbacks.
  5. 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.
  6. Print out what remains.
  7. 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 inconsistancies. For example, if your character is allergic to dairy but in one scene he or she 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 come from?” then it needs a “?”.
  8. Review and repair any areas that you tagged with a question mark.
  9. Fix any transitions and awkward phrasing.
  10. Print out another copy with the new edits.
  11. Repeat steps 3-10 until you are happy with the way the general story looks.
  12. 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.
  13. Repeat steps 8-12 if need be.
  14. Polish up by fixing grammar and spelling errors.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 you don’t place Mr. Smith across the street from Mr. Jones in one scene and in another they’re next door neighbors. Same goes for any houses your characters may live in so bedrooms don’t move from the first floor to the second.
  • Understanding the direction in which your story takes is crucial. Try and visualise it before writing it!


  • Do not throw out early drafts until you are satisfied with the final one. 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

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world’s largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Edit a Short Story. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.


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