Self-Editing Fiction

imageEditing my book was not something that I thought I would enjoy.

But when you know what to look for, it can be quite fulfilling because you are making your writing stronger.


In On Writing, Steven King says, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

Most blogs or books on editing tell you that using adverbs is just laziness.  I can see their point.  Consider the following sentence:  She walked slowly.  Use a stronger verb instead.  She strolled.  That is pretty much all there is to say about adverbs.  Avoid them if you can.

Second Drafts

King also explains that he strives for his second draft to be ten percent shorter than the first.

For mathematical types:  Draft2 = Draft1(1-0.1)

I can agree with this if you are already a mature writer.  For newbies like me, the above formula may not apply if you have major holes in your plot.  You may actually end up increasing your word count to patch up said holes.

(He also only goes through his manuscript three times.  I do NOT want to tell you how many times I’ve been through mine.)

Show Don’t Tell

There is also something called ‘Showing, Not Telling’.  This is simply using dialogue and actions to convey a character’s feelings versus describing their feelings outright.  I say ‘simply’ but it is not always simple.

Telling example:  Glenn was scared. 

Showing example:  Glenn’s heart raced and he held his breath as he watched the dragon advance.

It can be challenging but it makes you an observer of people.  So the next time you are bored out of your skull (a cliche – avoid these as well) at a dinner party, each guest can become a character study.  What are the mannerisms of the shy one?  How does the loudmouth know-it-all command the attention of the room?  How do the other guests react?


SONY DSCYou should only use ‘said’ when attributing dialogue to a character.  But only when it isn’t clear who is talking, otherwise use nothing.

In one chapter of about 2000 words, I cut more than 70 words by getting rid of my useless attributions because it was already clear who was talking.

If it isn’t clear who is talking but there are lines of dialogue and you want to slow the pace down, consider adding beats.

Examples of beats are as follows:

Diane gazed out the window of the bar.  “They should be back by now.”

Sam glanced at the clock.  “I forgot to tell you.  They were going to be stopping at the Hungry Heifer for a meal after the game.”

 Also, do not add descriptions to how the dialogue was said.  It should be clear by the action and dialogue itself how the character is feeling.

For example:  “That’s impossible,” she said with surprise.

The ‘with surprise’ isn’t necessary from what is said and it should already be clear from the lead up that she would be surprised.

Inner dialogue (when the character is talking to him or herself), is always done in present tense.

How to Write Dazzling Dialogue – The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript by James Scott Bell is a fantastic resource.  I would recommend buying one.  The last section provides rules for punctuation and paragraph splits.

Are there any ‘no-brainers’ that I missed?  Please let me know in the comment section.


9 thoughts on “Self-Editing Fiction

  1. Winters says:

    LOVE this post. VERY helpful. Might just go out today and purchase that book. Seriously though, this post is really helpful and informative. Thanks for taking the time out to write and post it.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s