Self-Editing Checklist

Self Editing For Fiction Writers WebsiteNothing compares to reading my manuscript on paper after staring at it onscreen for two years. And talking about it for a year with a critique group.

I loaded my baby onto a flash drive and took it to work, anxious for my lunch hour when I could take it to Office Depot. For around $25, I took home a 275-page, spiral bound block of reality.

That baby felt weighty. Substantial. Like I had accomplished something. Wait a sec. She’s no longer a baby. This kid’s a teenager getting groomed to go off to college—that is, the ACFW Genesis Contest. And to visit an agent—well, to query an agent via email. Scary. Thrilling. Terrifying.

I was an editing maniac for a week. I pored over the pages with pen in hand. There were moments of exhilaration. Yeah, I nailed that. And moments of total despair. I suck. I’m so far away from having this ready.

Unbelievable how much I was able to catch by reading the story out loud and making line edits by hand. I deleted paragraphs. Detected sections of dialogue that made me snore. Snipped and tidied and sharpened.

The little darlings—those words I used over and over again without realizing it—popped. Like these:

  • “Just.” 253 instances. That’s almost 1 on every page!
  • “Truly”
  • “California” (my story takes place in Washington state!)

Self Editing for Fiction WritersBefore my hard copy review, I read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King, a little book full of wisdom critical for the serious writer. I want to memorize it! Then maybe book #2 won’t require nearly as many edits. I can dream, can’t I? 🙂

Below are snippets of editing wisdom I gleaned from the book.


  • Naming feelings and emotions
  • Cliches
  • Starting sentences with “As” or words that end in “-ing’
  • Passive phrases using “she was -ing”; e.g. “she was screaming.”
    Instead use active verbs (and fewer words!); e.g. “she screamed.”
  • “-ly” words
  • Disguising exposition in dialogue (trying to shove information into conversation)
  • Explaining – smuggling emotions into speaker attributes that belong in the dialogue or action itself
  • Formality in dialogue
  • Long, fancy words
  • Flowery language


  • Use body language to express emotions
  • Italicize interior monologue; do not add quotes or provide dialogue tags
  • In dialogue, don’t be afraid to use commas instead of periods to make is read like it would sound
  • When a character asks a question, have the other character avoid the question or ignore it completely. Have him use misdirection. Or provide a totally different answer than the question asked.
  • For dialogue tags, use “Sam said.” –not– “said Sam.” (Easy way to remember – think of how odd it would sound if you wrote “said I.” You’ll either sound like Yoda or the writer of Fun With Dick and Jane)
  • To denote trailing off in dialogue, use ellipses
    • “Sam…”
  • To denote interruption in dialogue, use an em dash
    • “Sam, listen—”

Thank you Renni Browne and Dave King for helping me learn how to take my baby one step closer to the real world!

What did I miss? What’s your favorite piece of editing advice?

Leave a comment


  1. I’m really happy for you that your book is coming along. Can’t wait for you to release it to the world.

  2. I’ll be sure to pick up that book, but I still have a long way to go before I get to the editing stage. Congrats on finishing up, and I know we’ll be hearing more about the Genesis contest. This is exciting, Natalie!

    • Thanks Darla! I have to say, I wish I’d read this book before I started writing. I would have written better in the first place instead of having to go back and tighten everything up so many times.

      Although, on second thought, if I’d read the book first I might have been so worried about technique that I wouldn’t have been able to get the story down… So there’s that…

      • From everything I’ve read, I think you did it the best way — write, then edit, and then edit some more! I’ve actually stopped working on my novel’s story for now. Instead, I’m writing out character descriptions, themes, conflicts, family trees — the organizational part of it. I’ve asked my three main characters “State your name and tell me a little about yourself.” Too much fun.

      • I’m doing the same thing with my next story! Amazing how much developing the characters causes the plot to unfold almost effortlessly. Having a blast. 🙂

  3. Great tips! The one that jumps out at me immediately is the ‘said Sam’ versus ‘Sam said’. I don’t think I ever knew that the former is a no-no.

  4. I recently purchased this same editing book. I am glad to see the excerpt you provided because it shows that the book has ideas of value. I wish you all the best in your editing efforts. You were smart to print the novel out and look at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes the old-fashioned way is the better method.

    • Wendy – so glad you bought this book! It’s one I’ll review time and time again – I’m positive it helped tighten my writing and let the story shine through.

      Reading my printed manuscript was so valuable that it’s going to be part of my process from now on. May be cheaper to invest in a good printer though! 🙂

  5. Finally i quit my regular job, now i earn decent money online
    you should try too, just search in google – slabs roulette

  1. The Noble Pen for June 27, 2013 « The Noble Pen

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