2nd Half of Self-Editing Tips

Get rid of words that aren’t needed in a sentence such as up in wash up, etc. except in dialogue. Get rid of cliches. Substitute a cliche with something fresh and imaginative.

Fragments are okay if used sparingly and purposefully. Of course fragments are fine in dialogue if that’s how the person talks, or in instances where fragments would be most logical.

Check your dialogue tags. Do you really need them? Would the character’s action, or description serve as a dialogue tag? Remember to use asked when someone asks a question, not said. Said and asked are far less obtrusive than remarked, questioned etc. Sometimes one of those seems to be the best, but be careful not to overuse. Even better is when the dialogue is so unique to the character the reader can tell who is speaking without a tag. 

Be careful not to have a character tell something to another person that the person already knows.

When a new character makes an appearance, give the reader more than a name. There’s nothing more disconcerting than making a mental picture of someone as tall and lean and dark, and finding out later that he was pudgy, short and redheaded. Remind us every now and then of the character’s description and attributes.

Use a new paragraph each time a new person speaks or does something. Makes it much easier for the reader. Remember, white space is good.

Be sure each verb is the most descriptive possible for the action. Use active, not passive verbs. Get rid of as many of the "to be" verbs–is, am, was, were, are, will be, etc., --as possible. Find an active verb to substitute.

Look at each of your adverbs–are they really necessary or could you have used a verb that more aptly described the action. Use active, not passive verbs. Run a spell check on looked. There are so many verbs that are more descriptive: searched, studied, glanced, spotted, noticed, gazed, etc. Find the one that best describes what the character is doing. Use your thesaurus.

When you describe a character as looking a certain way, sad, disgruntled, or whatever, instead why not describe what it is that makes them look that way?

Be sure all pronouns refer back to the right person. A pronoun always refers back to the last person or thing mentioned. Use the character’s name whenever there’s any doubt.

Check for repeated words, or words that sound too much alike, being too near each other.
Be sure characters are speaking as they should for their age, time period, sex etc. Every profession has a jargon, use it, but use it correctly.

The dialogue must be realistic sounding, but not necessarily realistic since that could be boring. Leave out all the greeting information, and the "wells." Read all dialogue aloud, make sure it sounds natural. Avoid talking-head characters.

Avoid wordiness and redundancies–if you say someone is petite you probably don’t need to say how tall they are.

Be careful what you have characters’ eyes do. Often the word picture can be jolting as in she dropped her eyes, or his eyes danced around the room.


Personally, I prefer one point-of-view throughout a scene. However, I do know that romance writers like to go from one to another especially in a love scene. If you’re going to do this make sure to use a good transition so your reader knows exactly what is going on. It’s best not to switch back and forth.

Remember when you’re in one person’s point-of-view that person cannot know what another person is thinking. They can guess by the other’s expression, perhaps the fact that their skin has changed color. Also the POV characters can’t see themselves, so don’t know they turned scarlet with embarrassment, but they can feel their skin grow hot or flush.

The narrative is essentially what the POV person is thinking, feeling, experiencing. There’s no need to say she thought this or that, and that way you don’t have to decide how to show something is a thought, just write it. If you really get inside the skin of the POV character and look out through his or her eyes, you’ll have an easier time with writing from that character’s POV.

Use quick, short sentences when the narrative is action packed. Longer, more fluid sentences work better in romantic scenes.

Make sure the action is described in the proper order.

Let us see where the action is taking place. Beware of talking heads. People move around and do things when they are having a conversation. This is where your better dialogue tags can come in.

Check for a speech that is too long. Remember, folks get impatient when a person talks too long and interrupt or ask questions.

Use dialogue to move the plot along and reveal character. Don’t bother with the mundane things we all say, get on with the story. Even though we all say, "well" a lot when we’re talking, eliminate the word from your character’s dialogue. Read all dialogue aloud and make sure it sounds natural–and right for the time period.

People use contractions in normal speech. However, when writing period pieces you probably won’t use contractions. If you are going to use idiomatic types of speech in dialogue don’t overdo. Don’t do anything that hinders the ease of the reading.

Don’t interrupt as the author. All information should come from the viewpoint character, or as the viewpoint character learns about the information.

Check for too many "had”s. Usually one will take care of letting the reader know something happened earlier.

Watch for continuity problems. What was a simple blue dress becomes a pink tea dress. Character’s eyes change colors.

If certain facts have been established about a character or location, those facts shouldn’t change.

Did you clear up all the loose ends?

When you think you’re through, print out the whole manuscript. Read it aloud so you can hear the rhythm and pacing. Listen to your words to catch awkward phrasing and repetition. Stilted dialogue becomes painfully obvious when read aloud. Mark everything that’s bothersome and continue to the end.

After the first read through, go back and fix everything you marked.

Take a closer look at descriptions. Do you have long passages of narrative that could bog down the story? Or do you have the opposite problems, with scenes and people so sketchily described the reader has no sense of what anyone or anything looks, sounds, smells or tastes like? Have you made good use of all five senses in your descriptions? You don’t want to go overboard, but the judicious use of odors, sounds and sensations can bring your story to life.

Study your transitions. Does the story move smoothly from scene to scene? Are point-of-view changes clear?

Do you provide enough clues for the reader to know when scenes take place in relation to each other? Has enough time passed for events to realistically take place in your story? It may be helpful to draw a time line to plot pivotal scenes in the book. The visual picture of the story line can be a big help.

Reread your chapter ending. Do they propel the reader on so they want to read just one more chapter? Or does every chapter end neatly with the close of day or the resolution of a problem, making it easy for the reader to set the book aside for another time? Consider ending chapters on a suspenseful hook, or an enticing question, or even in the middle of a scene. The next chapter might start with another character and something else going on. Just be sure to get back to the original scene before too much time passes.

Reread the beginnings of each chapter. Do your beginnings hook the reader, pulling them into the story?
Clean up dialogue tags. Can you eliminate some tags? Do you need to add others in order to help the reader know who is speaking? Replace awkward tags with a simple he said or she said, or he asked, she asked. They become invisible to the reader, the words like responded, questioned, interjected, tend to jar the reader out of the story.

Try to eliminate descriptive adjectives that describe emotions, such as angrily, wearily, happily. Instead use your character’s actions, facial expressions. Or use words to convey the emotion.

When naming characters avoid using the same first letter for names, names that rhyme or sound too much alike. Make sure the name chosen was used during the era of your book.

Don’t have your hero and heroine constantly addressing each other by name in ordinary conversation.

Eliminate or replace weak words.

Don’t make your reader look for a dictionary too often.

Be sure your writing is concise–write tight.

Delete unnecessary adjectives and adverbs.

Vary sentence beginnings. Does every sentence begin with he or she? Use different sentence structures to add variety to your writing and improve the flow.

Hone in on the emotions. Readers want to be swept into the feelings of the characters no matter the genre. Have you dug deep enough to find the emotions your characters are feeling? Are your character’s emotional reactions appropriate?

Eliminate inaccuracies. Check the facts whether your book is historical or about modern times. Verify words you use are appropriate for your time period, or that you’ve used proper police procedure for the area you are writing about.

Does the ending point toward a deeper story? The best endings make the reader think about what has gone on before, perhaps speculate about a deeper meaning.

Final polish. Do another spell check. Proof the printed copy one more time. Make sure your format is correct for the particular publisher. If you have time, set the book aside and work on something else for a week or two. Print out a fresh copy and do another read-through. Chances are this time you’ll find only a few minor corrections. No book is ever completely finished, but if you do a good job of editing, you’ll be sending off a polished gem.

Next on the Blog Tour for Angel Lost:

Monday, March 7
Book trailer featured at If Books Could Talk
Tuesday, March 8
Guest blogging at Thoughts in Progress
Wednesday, March 9
Interviewed at Blogcritics
Thursday, March 10
Book spotlighted at The Plot
Book spotlighted at Books, Products and More!
Friday, March 11
Character interviewed at The Plot

I'd love it if you'd leave a comment on one or more of these blogs.

Marilyn Meredith


An outstanding post, Marilyn ~ so many words of wisdom. Thanks for sharing your wealth of experience. Such good advice from start to finish!
Marja said…
I agree with Kathleen. I wish every writer would read this blog. And I'm definitely guilty of some of these things. One word that keeps popping up is "just". I wish I could just delete that from my vocabulary.

Popular posts from this blog

it's Not a Cozy! by Mar Preston


The Power of Identity by Donna Urbikas