Tuesday 15 April 2014

Setting about High Quality Self Editing for Short Story Competitions

You have drafted your story and transcribed it onto your computer. What next?

What follows is accumulated wisdom emerging from judging many short story competitions related to what I didn't find in the less good  entries and what characterised good entries.
You have drafted your story
 and transcribed it onto your computer.

Give your story the best chance by presenting it well

Layout – How it looks is the first thing the reader  sees when they handle a manuscript.

Don’t forget that your computer may be automatically formatted for business reports, brochures, and letters. (Like this page) You need adapt your layout  to make it  suitable for fiction. There’s nothing worse than trying to read a short story laid out like a business report.

Some guidelines for tackling layout.

1.            Line spacing  I.5  
2.            Indent every paragraph except the one at the beginning, when you place the first line at the margin.
3.            If you change place, time or action within a story, leave a double space and place the first line of the new paragraph on the margin and then continue indentation as before..

Laid out in this fashion your original drafted, transcribed manuscript begins to look professional. Now you’re looking at it more like the reader - or judge -will see it..

This will help you for the next stage of editing which is –

Passionate Substantive Editing –

Some tips:

1.Read the text out loud  right through. Just mark anything that sounds lumpy or doesn’t flow. Scribble in self suggestions. Have - and enjoy – a reader’s dialogue with the text. Insert amendments that enhance your meaning or improve the flow of your text.  

2. Sort out the paragraphs.
Paragraphs can be a puzzle. I meet good writers in workshops who haven’t yet got paragraphs nailed. It’s a bit of an ambiguous area. To a degree, paragraphing can be a matter of taste and style. Paragraphs in modern literature are distinctly shorter that those written in novels – say – before 1946.
If we aim for High Quality Self Editing we have to make our own choices regarding paragraphing.

Me? I’m of the opinion that white space on the page makes text more accessible and helps it flow forward.
So here are my useful rules of thumb.
·         New speaker, new paragraph
·         New idea, new paragraph
·         (As stated in Layout, above). If you change place, time or action within a story, leave a double space and place the first line of the new paragraph on the margin and then continue indentation.
3 That sorted, you can now move onto other things
·         Carry out a computer spell and grammar check to iron out residual mis-spellings, expressions and extra spaces that have escaped your eagle eye.
·         Read the whole text again (I know! I know! But after all this is still High Quality Self Editing Skills.
·         Now get your notebook and make list of the names you use in your story. Check back through your story and make sure they are consistent.
·         Turn a page in your notebook.  Now go through your story  and check the physical characteristics of your characters (hair eyes etc). Are they consistent?  Make tiny amendments to remind the reader of these characteristics as the story unfolds.
·         Spell/grammar-check any changed sections. Or the whole story again if necessary.

Hooray! Now you have your complete well written, well edited story, well laid out and easy to access.

So now give your story to a trusted writing buddy to check it out.  

Then one final and rigorous spelling/grammar check on your computer and you have what I call a story in Good Heart.

So it is near perfect. This is your final chance to look at your novel as a near-perfect whole and you can ask yourself some useful questions,
·         Look at the beginning and end of your story.. Are there valid connections here in terms of words, phrases or ideas? If not, think about inserting some. It could be a single word or phrase.
·         Look at your paragraphs in sequence. Is there forward movement? Is there flow? Is there some energy on the forward movement?
·         Consider again the first and last paragraphs Do they convey a kind of symmetry, however ambiguous?  I don’t mean here cute resolutions. Endings are not about explanation or expiation. However there should be a valid connection that momentarily gives the reader (however subliminally) a sense of the story as a whole.
·          Think whether  you have made your characters live and breathe and whether the end of a story is just the end of a beginning,
Now …er… one last mechanical spelling and grammar check. Ouch! Don’t hit me!

But now your story has really benefitted from your High Quality Self Editing Skills. You have become an editor as well as a writer. Your story is now endowed a professional identity to launch it into any competition,   including the

Room to Write Short Story Competition

Check it out under 'Compeition' at    http://roomtowritepublishing.wordpress.com//

C. Wendy Robertson

Now in Paperback and on Kindleon Amazon and in County Durham Libraries.

Happy Writing!


  1. Excellent advice Wendy. (And, as a past judge myself, I'd recommend standard serif fonts, and definitely not purple mock-handwriting ones!!) The Room To Write competition is a brilliant idea.

    1. Thank you Kathy. Good advice as always. I once recieved an entry in green ink, block capitals... We're hoping for a good and varied entry for the competition. So very pleased that you are spreading the word.



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