Every word matters when writing short prose. The shorter you write, the tighter your work must be if you’d like to see your work published. When revising a short story or personal essay, the most economical way to approach your task is to tackle the big-picture edits like story arc and characterization first. Then move on to the narrower focus items like word choice and dialogue. Edit grammar and punctuation last.
Use this checklist to make the most of your revision time:
Check the big-picture items first:
Is this the best setting for this story?
Is this the right focus character for this story? Are they interesting or flawed?
Is there a clear narrative arc including a turning point and an epiphany?
Does every scene belong in this piece?
Do the secondary characters add to the overall story?
Next, move in closer:
Is the balance between narrative and dialogue appropriate for this piece?
Is the main character’s goal or desire clear?
Is the story paced to keep readers reading? Rising tension?
Are transitions smooth?
Is the setting clear and visceral?
Does the dialogue sound authentic to each character? Does the dialogue move the story forward?
In each scene, are you a fly on the wall? Can you see and feel these moments?
Does your voice shine through?
Last, zoom all the way in:
Is the first sentence a strong hook?
Can you omit any cliches?
How’s your grammar? Spelling?
Is every detail specific and visceral?
Do you have any repeated words in close proximity?
Are all of your adjectives and adverbs necessary?
Is your POV consistent?
Are your tenses consistent?
Are your dialogue attributions smooth?
Have you used all five senses?
Have you deleted every unnecessary word?
Does that last line resonate with readers?
How about that title? Does it pull you into the prose?