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Tips on editing

30 Aug Posted by in Writing Tips | 3 comments
Tips on editing

Many writers are not authors.

That may sound harsh, but it is not meant as an indictment against writers.  If you have not completed a work you have not authored.

A lot of would-be-authors never get to the end of the book (or story) because they are caught up in editing as they write.

You have to make a decision—will you set aside your fear that your writing will not be perfect, or will you continue to second guess your story?

Editing is what happens to authors.  Editing is what will make your book or story a novel.

BUT one cannot edit what one has not written.

So, before you read any further—is your story finished?  If you answered yes, then continue on, if you answered no, STOP reading and go get it done.


There are two basic types of editing. One type is developmental editing (also called plot editing) and the second type is line editing.

  • Developmental editing is all about refining the elements of plotting, pacing, internal and external conflicts, and flow of dialogue.
  • Line editing hones your writing style. It is the nuts and bolts—checking grammar, spelling, punctuation, time frames, and readability.

Your book needs both types of editing. It may seem tedious to go over your work twice, but it is important. A spotless manuscript announces to editors and publishers that you are serious. You are professional. You are an author.

Tips to help in self editing:

  • Run spell-check and grammar check—not always perfect, not every suggestion it pulls up is correct, but it will show you where problems may occur and should pick up misspellings.
  • Make a list of your favorite words and use the find function to highlight each occurrence.  My big reoccurring words are THAT and JUST.
  • Have you made clear when the story is occurring in time? A good way to do this is with sounds and things that the protagonist encounters.

Like this example:  Julia paused at the corner of a cobble stone street giving the right of way to the team of horses pulling a fire brigade. The gas lit lamp over head reflected off the polished brass fittings. (From my imagination not a current WIP) We know it is between 1825-1900 due to the gas lights, most likely in England, and that it is before combustion engines were used for municipal vehicles. Also the cobble stone streets give us a clue that Julia is in a city and not out in the county.  But we did not have to tell the reader, we showed the reader.

  • Does each main character have a separate voice?  To test this pull out a section of dialogue, erase the names, and mix up the lines.  Can you clearly tell who is who?
  • In the dialogue, are your characters speaking like real people? For dialogue to be interesting and believable you must use real speech patterns. For example:  “The car I want,” not “The car that I want.”
  • Did you make sure that the characters have sufficient reason for working toward the ending?  Can you answer this question—if (insert main protagonist name) does not get (the main reason of the book) what happens? If the answer is not much of anything, you need to go back and give your story a consequence of failure.
  • Have you tied up those loose ends? Although most writers want to author a series it is important that the story is complete, the novel needs to stand alone. That doesn’t mean that you cannot set up another in the series; just don’t leave cliff hangers—that’s for television.
  • Basic grammar, verbs should agree with subjects (singular, plural). Verb tenses should follow though out the story.
  • Point of view. See my other posts on POV, here and here.

All in all, writing, editing, and rewriting work together to make a novel. But remember none of that can happen without something to edit.  It would be like putting shingles on a house without first installing the roof.


Resources for self editing:



  1. Lisa Collins08-31-11

    Also here is a great resource from Grammar Girl. I love her!

  2. Debbie Archer08-31-11

    EXCELLENT post, Lisa. I’d never thought about the two separate types of editing. I like how you broke it down and explained what both consist of. I also like the idea of pulling snippets of dialogue from various characters to tell if they sound too much alike. A drama teacher friend of mine suggested that once and it makes perfect sense.

    Seriously. Great post.

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