Editing a Short Story – Notes from the OIW Workshop

On November 21, Matt Moore and I hosted a short story writing workshop with the Ottawa Independent Writers. It was a wonderful evening and as we ran a little long on time, a few points fell off the end. One of the most important – and fun – notes dealt with editing a short story.

Many techniques can be used in self-editing and some are kind of taxing for novel-length work. Shorts give us a little more room for experimentation. These are some techniques I use and a few I’ve heard mentioned in author interviews.

Reading it aloud

  • This is easier with a short because it won’t take more than a half hour in general.
  • Record yourself reading it. During the recording process you may notice sections to tighten up, or upon listening back you get a little closer to the reader experience.

Pick up editing in the middle

  • Since you can keep the events of a short story in your head, try editing the middle of the story first so you are looking at word choice and description, not plot.
  • Or, start at the end and go paragraph by paragraph, backwards.


Some novelists do this but with a short it is a fairly quick procedure. If you’ve printed out a draft and want to slow down your reading, retyping it can reveal all kinds of flow errors or just give you room to make new decisions on sentence structure.

Beta readers

Nothing new here, but it may be easier to garner readers for a short over a novel. You can also get feedback fairly quickly from…

  • Workshops and writer’s groups
  • Goodreads groups
  • Absolute Write and Amazon Kindle forums
  • Association forums if you have joined any
  • Facebook and Twitter – useful to call out to readers you may not expect
  • Your newsletter subscribers if you use one

The Road To Hell Is Paved With Adverbs sayeth Stephen King

Yes, in short fiction you don’t have the space to spare, but eliminating every adverb, passive tense, cliche or alliteration may cost you style.

All of these steps should weed out the worst offenders so no need to rev up the chainsaw when a scalpel will do!



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