Editing Your Short Story

With our California Young Writers Contest underway, many Contra Costa County middle school students are busy writing poems, short stories and personal narratives and essays.    

YES!  (Shouted with fist in the air.  <g>)

One question that comes up a lot is if a student can submit five pages of a story that goes on longer.   Can they end their story with “To Be Continued?”

No.  Why?  Because as a judge for this category, we would like to see if the student can write a beginning, middle and end within five pages.  

However, if the student has written a longer piece, this is great too!  It means this student has the stamina to write more!   There is an annual Scholastic Novel Contest for Kids  (this year’s contest is ending and next year’s guidelines aren’t up yet) that might be appropriate for this story.  So encourage the longer works too.  But just not for our contest.

Students can create a different short story for us, or edit their longer piece. 

How to edit? 

 “Pitch” the story in two sentences.  What is this story REALLY about?  What is the character’s goal?  Does she/he achieve it? 

It’s difficult, isn’t it?  After much thinking, the student can write down the brief “pitch” of what the story is about.

Next, the student goes through the story, paragraph by paragraph.  Does each scene relate to the pitch?  Does every sentence  show character and plot?  Is any of it unnecessary?  Can any of it be cut?

Sometimes we writers like to create dialogue that doesn’t go anywhere.  If it doesn’t have tension, show conflict, or move the story on, we can remove it.  Sometimes we writers tell too much.  Too much narration bogs down a story. 

With the help of computers, editing/revising can become addictive!  Trust adult writers.  Many of us have trouble letting our stories out into the world, and we revise so much other writers must tell us to stop!

But often, young writers find it difficult to cut anything in their drafts and only think a second draft is for correcting spelling and punctuation.  Wrong. 

The second draft is where the fun begins!   This is where we can add scenes or take them away.  Add details and senses.  Add thoughts and reactions of your main character. 

Then the writer reads the story out loud with a pencil in hand.  Does it flow right?   The ear will hear it. 

The first time it might be hard, but then it gets to be so much fun you can’t stop.  Next thing you know, you’ve finished your story and you’ve discovered you really like writing after all. 

We can’t wait to read the entries.  Keep writing!  And remember, you can send multiple entries in multiple categories, in the same envelope or at different times.  Just make sure the post mark makes the deadline. 

And follow the guidelines.  Good luck!

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