My 10 Step programme to re-writing short stories

I have finally found a technique that works to help me re-draft my short stories.


There I was, doggedly trying to make my original draft work; rewriting sections, moving paragraphs, changing words. I became frustrated and disillusioned. This story was simply not working for me. Despite having all of the right elements and knowing what I wanted it to be, I could not seem to mould it into a framework that made sense.

And suddenly, I found it. With one simple step I knew what I was doing.

It’s a revelation – finally finding that one thing that works for you.

So, here is my new approach to short story writing.

Step 1: Write something
To begin with I need to know the essence of my story, who my characters might be and what they might be motivated by. Free-writing enables me the imagination to create this and the freedom to change direction whenever I identify a more appealing angle.

Step 2: Read it
Here I try and pick up on the actual story I want to tell. Sometimes there is more than one possible story that sneaks its way into my writing. But, here is the time to determine which is the one I want to work on.

Step 3: Take Notes
I think about the story I want to write, imagine it, try and visualise it as a finished product. All of this helps to define exactly what it is I am after. I consider my character/s, their mannerisms and personality traits. I make notes on how to demonstrate these. If I think someone needs to be angry in one scene I’ll jot down how that anger might be shown, rather than stated. This is where the idea develops.

Step 4: Write the story
This is where I usually got stuck. I would write the story, but it wouldn’t resemble the piece I foresaw in step three. I struggled with the words, when really what I need to do is repeat step one. This about the writing. This is where first draft one appears for the story I had in mind. It may still include lots of prose and exposition – this is fine. This is what I want – to explore the story and get everything I need down in one place.

Step 5: Summarise
[My shining light – my saviour.] I now go back through my first draft and decide which scenes work, what it is that I want to include in my final draft – as I envisaged it in step three. I write a sentence or two to punctuate each individual scene.

Step 6: Show don’t tell
Now I bring my first draft back, knowing which of the parts I wrote here I want to work on. I highlight the sentences that I think best demonstrate what I am trying to tell. Mostly, this is only one or two sentences every paragraph. I’m picking the gold dust out of the dirt. This is what I want to work with.

Step 7: Character
Returning to my summary, I determine what it is my character feels at each scene I’ve decided will appear in the final draft. I use the sentences I’ve picked out to help me do this. I make sure that I never state what my character feels – better to demonstrate it.

Step 8: Re-write
Using my summary I expand each scene using the elements I have picked out and describing my character’s behaviour appropriately. By this stage I know enough of the motivation, the character and the plot to be able to use the summary scenes as a guide to tailor the story to any word count and ensure every scene counts.

Step 9: Re-evaluate
Now I’m really reading it. Initially to ensure that I’ve said what I wanted to. If I need to I might repeat any of the steps between four and eight. I tighten my concepts, my word count, my voice. Pick out erroneous sentences and see if it makes a difference. Tweak a few words here and there.

Step 10: Let it breathe
I put the story away. I work on something new. I let go of the process little by little until I’ve forgotten how I did it. Then, I come back to it. Read it with fresh eyes. Note down what I think might be the theme, the central character’s main trait, their journey and their reversal based only on what I have read then. If it matches what I originally intended, then great – re-write complete. If not, I go back a step until I get there.

Process complete

This is what I have been missing – structure in my editing process. Now I’ve found it I feel confident and focused on my story again. I have a plan. I believe I can write what I desire to be capable of; a good short story.


2 responses to “My 10 Step programme to re-writing short stories

  1. Pingback: Editing Tips for Short Stories | The struggle to be a writer that writes

  2. Pingback: A happy ending… | The struggle to be a writer that writes

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