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
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
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
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
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.
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