Monday, March 29, 2021

Let's Edit a Story!


Good idea, but first we have to make up a story. As a panster (a writer who wings her way through a story without a plan or outline) I vote we whip one up from nothing. Here goes!

One day I was looking out the window and saw my mother in the yard.


OK. It’s true you should get the bulk of your story out before you start editing, usually. But when your brain is already kicking you, it’s hard to get a good idea for the next sentence. An opening doesn’t have to be good at the gate, but don’t let it feel rusty, either. Clear it up now and start your story off inspired, rather than anxious.

If you handed me this sentence, I’d immediately ask why you began with “one day?“ If it doesn’t matter which day it is, then leave that out. If it is a specific day, but the actual date doesn’t matter, then tell us what does matter about that day, or why that day matters. Here’s my go at it. (Write your version with me.)

The day my mother put on Dad’s work boots, our life changed.

Look at the improvement the specifics make. It’s no longer just any old day. Here, the day does matter. Why? Because it changed the lives of this narrator’s family. That’s a big thing. That’s the kind of thing stories are made of. It has more meat to it than “one day…”

The new opening creates questions. You’ll want to know why Mom put on Dad’s work boots, why isn’t Dad wearing them, and in what way that little action changed their lives. Now there’s some muscle to push the story along.

Next, consider the passive sentence in the original opening ––>... I was looking out the window...

An easy way to know it’s passive is the word “was.” Was looking. My, my, my. You can’t get much weaker than that. To make that passive sentence active, write I looked rather than I was looking. Naturally, that brings up another problem. Who is the “I?” Who is this narrator?  Male, female? Adult child or teen child? Preteen?

Don’t come right out and say a __-aged boy or girl. Show the reader this information in other ways. For instance, a girl may flick her long hair back. That’s actually quite common in stories (and in life!), and I’m guilty of using it too often myself. It’s a go-to phrase. Make your description more unique. Flicking long hair gives us the idea that the character is female, though males can have long hair as well. Regardless, what other way could we show that this female character has long hair?

How about if she lifts her hair off of her neck as she’s watching out the window? That lets us know not only that the character’s hair is long, but also that it’s a hot day, or at least that the room is hot. If a description can tell us two things instead of one, great. Always go for the description you don’t think everybody else is using. You can describe something everyone will relate to it and still not use a phrase you’ve seen in thousands of stories. You could also show the sweltering temperature by saying sweaty hair or sticky neck.

Try your hand at finishing this story. Until you reach the end, use whatever opening gets the story going. You may not keep your original opening, and that’s okay.

Watch for my next blog post and see what other changes I find for this beginning.

Also, I’d like to use one of your stories for future posts. If you’re interested in getting a family-friendly short story edited for free, please use the little envelope icon on the right to contact me. Stories 300-1200 words will work best for this study. No picture books, please.

Note to readers. In your own work, I recommend finishing a story before tackling any major editing. Always look for the big problems first, weak character arcs, pacing problems, and a lack of logic before weeding out extra words and accidental rhymes. It makes no sense to put a ton of work into a page you later delete. But for learning purposes, we’ll do some minor line editing on this story as we go along and developmental editing once we have a beginning, middle and end.

Happy writing!




  1. Testing to see if comments come to email

  2. Wow. It's exciting to see how you work on this, and intimidating to me!

    1. Not intimidating. Erasers were made for a reason. :-)

  3. Hi Debi - I don't write stories ... but it will be fascinating to see how you share these developments for stories. Stay safe - Hilary

  4. A good editor, like you, can bring life to a story. It's amazing how much we miss and how much a good fresh eye can help. It's true, however, that there must be a story to edit first. So, I like your point: use whatever opening (or whatever type of writing) to get the story out. Wonderful post, Deb.