How to Edit an Award-Winning Short Story by Mslexia | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Tips for Winning Short Stories
Mslexia comp


Ernest Hemingway once said ‘The only kind of writing is rewriting’, and if you’re planning to enter the Mslexia 2019 Short Story Competition, chances are you’ll soon be moving on from drafting into the infamous editing stage.

However, sometimes it can be difficult to know how to improve your story beyond simple sentence polishing. How can you add depth and nuance? How can you make sure your characters are complex and engaging? How can you make your work stand out for a panel of judges?

We’ve compiled a list of super short editing exercises to jostle your imagination. Could any of these work for your piece?

► Treat your existing story as a prequel or sequel to the even more complete story you are really going to write. Use the same scenario and characters, but propel them forwards or backwards in time. The knowledge of what has happened, or is to come, will add depth.
► Change the setting to somewhere unfamiliar that you have visited or researched. How does the difference in landscape affect your characters’ reactions to events?
► Broaden a character’s personality by giving them a surprising or paradoxical hobby (lap-dancing, bread-baking, stamp collecting…). Consider using ideas, terminology and images from the hobby to add a further layer to your description.
►  Read the first page of your story quickly. What colour do you associate with it? Think of objects and scene elements of the same colour and plant them in the story. What changes as a result?
► Change the sexes of the characters. See how much more memorable they become when you subvert any subconscious gender bias.
► Identify the image system in your story: you may have written about water, hunger, entrapment, gardening. Images often emanate from the subconscious. Build on the system you have identified by adding a new element to your plot, or creating subtle layers.

The above exercises were extracted from the Mslexia Writing Short Stories ebook.

Are you happy with your story after all the tinkering and tweaking? Then please send it our way!

The Mslexia 2019 Short Story Competition is back for its eleventh year, judged by award-winning short story author, novelist and performer Irenosen Okojie. Not only will the winning writer scoop £3,000, they’ll also be published in Mslexia magazine, enjoy a week at the stunning Moniack Mhor retreat, and benefit from mentoring with an editor at Virago – an experience that money can’t buy, and one that could really take your writing to the next level.

The competition closes at midnight on 30 September 2019, so there not much time left to enter. Go, go, go!

Full terms and conditions along with FAQs and competition rules can be found at

(c) Mslexia

About Writing Short Stories by Mslexia:

Writing Short Stories takes the reader through every stage and element of writing a short story – from coming up with an story idea, to figuring out where the beginning of your story really is, through structure, pace and character, and into redrafting. Packed with reading suggestions and exercises, and topped off with advice on where and how to get your finished stories published, this short guide is suitable for everyone from the absolute beginner to the seasoned writer who’s looking for more inspiration.

It includes chapters on:
– structure
– pace
– characters
– story prompts
– suggested reading
– and that all crucial final step: how to get your stories published

Order your copy online here.

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