Friday, June 26, 2015

The ABCs of Self-Editing

by Alycia W. Morales @AlyciaMorales

ABCs of Self-Editing
A – Adverbs: These sneaky little buggers like to make their way into our prose too often. Admittedly, we need to immediately do away with most of them.

B – Backstory needs to be used strategically and in most cases should never show up in your first chapter. Sprinkle it in via dialogue and flash backs.

C – Commas are a writer’s best friend. These save us from embarrassing dialogue like, “Let’s eat Grandma.” Don’t fear the serial comma. It makes your list clear.

D – Develop your characters well. People want someone they can root for – the type of character that draws them to want to know how their story ends. Be sure to give them an arc, as well. Your character must grow and change through his/her conflicts.

E – Ellipses aren’t the new comma. Use commas anywhere you can without the sentence getting awkward. You may even need Em Dashes, depending on the context.

F – First Person, Third Person, Past Tense, Present Tense. What Point of View (POV) and Tense are you writing in? Be sure it’s consistent throughout the novel. And avoid head hopping. Please.

G – Genre: Make sure it’s clear that you’re writing a Romantic Suspense. If no one is trying to figure out who framed them, then there’s no suspense in your romance novel. If the supernatural element is only mentioned once in your political thriller, then you aren’t writing speculative fiction.

H – Homonyms are other sneaky tricksters that like to hide in our prose. Don’t rely on spell check – it’s not smart enough to find these. But I bet you are. See if you can find them here: Be a deer and set you’re mittens over their. (My spell check only found one.)

Information dumps frustrate the reader.
I – Information Dumps frustrate the reader by sucking them out of your story to learn a lesson. If you don’t think your reader is smart enough to know what you’re talking about, leave that part out of your story Use something else instead.

J – Just cut it out. Don’t fear the delete button. Cut and paste the poopy writing into a separate document if you’re worried about losing it. But don’t leave it in the middle of your exciting copy. It will only infect the good stuff.

K – Keep pet words in their cages, not on your pages. Some popular ones are very, just, of course, and various conjunctions (at the beginning of sentences).

L – Listen to the professionals. Maybe you’ve had your manuscript critiqued or gotten feedback from a contest entry. Maybe an editor has bled on your pages. Heed their advice. That doesn’t mean you have to take it all, but if five people have said the same thing, you should probably listen.

M – Margins should be set at 1 inch all around. Lines should be double spaced. (Be sure there aren’t extra spaces between paragraphs.) Times New Roman 12-point font. No extra space between sentences. Just one. Normal tab.

N – Natives can talk kind of funny, and that’s okay to share once or twice at the beginning. Once a reader gets that your protagonist has an accent or uses “like” far too often, they will naturally read that in without it needing to be there on the page.

O – Overuse of descriptions. Leave room for your reader to use their own imagination. We don’t need to know what color and style every article of clothing is. Same goes for settings. And characters.

P – Preaching is for Sunday mornings, not your novel. You can deliver a message via a character’s dialogue, but beware: your character can come off as preachy as well.

Q – Quotation marks need to be on both sides of your dialogue, unless your character is speaking from paragraph to paragraph. They also need to be facing the right direction. ”Hi, my name is Anna.

R – Repetition is this editor’s biggest pet peeve. I will throw your book across the room if your mopey character is still mopey ten chapters later. Or whiny. Or angry. People have bad days, but those moments pass. Also, beware of repeating character traits over and over again. If I know he has brown hair on page one, I don’t need that detail again unless he dyes it another color.

S – Show, don’t …

Telling can be boring.
T – Tell. Telling is boring. It’s giving the day-to-day details of what your character is doing and/or why they are doing it. Avoid this at all costs. Don’t be lazy when you write. Dig deep. Draw out the guts of your story: the struggles, the emotions, the body language, the quirks of your characters. Write real.

U – Underestimating your readers isn’t advisable. Don’t dumb down the readers. Give them the credit they deserve and avoid scenarios in your novel that will leave them feeling like you think they’re stupid.

V – Vary your sentence structure. Peter picked up the novel. Peter started reading the novel. Peter got stuck in the first chapter because every sentence started the same, monotonous way. Peter threw the novel across the room, into the fireplace.

W – Write Tight. Clean up your novel. That’s what edits are for.

X – Experts, seek them out. Not sure about something? Find someone who knows what you don’t. Ask questions. Get answers. Readers will notice when something is factually off.

Y – YELLING IN ALL CAPS ISN’T NECESSARY!!! The exclamation point should never be overused, either. If a character is excited, show it in their body language and leave off the exclamation points.

Z – Zippity-do-dah, use active verbs that move the story forward, not inactive ones that slow it down. Try to avoid verbs that need help from words like was, to be, started, and began. Caution: Don’t use verbs that overdo it, though.

For the past few years, Alycia Morales has been helping writers turn their words into brilliant manuscripts that others won’t throw across the room. Several of the authors she has helped have gone on to win awards for the same manuscripts. She also co-writes a blog for writers at
When she isn’t busy editing, she too enjoys writing and is currently working on a YA novel. She’s been published in several devotionals, compilation books, and by Splickety Love and Thriving Family magazine. Alycia lives in Upstate SC with her husband, four children, and two dogs.


Loretta Eidson said...

Alycia, Love this post. I'm going to print it, I may even have it blown up, framed, and hung in my office in front of me as a constant reminder for my writing. Thank you!