February 28, 2014
Self-Editing For Fiction Writers
This is a verbatim handout in a clinic the authors taught in 1990 in New York. Each item on
the following self-editing checklist is a deal-breaker for your blockbuster. You manuscript
likely has many of them. Buy this essential book; understand what the checklist items refer
to, and start self-editing.
1) SHOW(ing) AND TELL(ing): As you re-read your work, watch for places where you tell
your readers about personality traits, situations, or emotions, rather than showing them
through actions and events.
2) DIALOGUE DIRECTIVES: Watch like a hawk for places where you've explained your
dialog. Watch for "ly" adverbs and verbs for speech other than "said." And rethink your
3) SEE HOW IT SOUNDS: Read a passage of dialogue, narration, or description aloud and
listen for the unconscious changes.
4) EASY BEATS: Beware of including either beats that describe dialogue or so many beats
that the dialogue is choppy.
5) INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: As with beats, make sure your interior monologue isn't
obtrusive or actually an explanation in disguise. Also, dispense with stage directions
6) SOPHISTICATION: Watch for "as" and "-ing" constructions and change the sentences
that don't actually require these constructions.
7) BREAKING UP IS EASY TO DO: Break up lengthy sections of narration or descriptions
with frequent paragraphs, or with dialogue, or even with the occasional one or two line
8) POINT OF VIEW: Watch for places where you change point of view in the middle of a
scene. If the change is necessary, insert a linespace and start a new scene.
9) ONCE IS USUALLY ENOUGH: Look for places in which you've accomplished essentially
the same thing twice. Decide which of the two is strongest and cut the weaker phrase,
sentence, or entire scene.
10) VOICE: As you read over your work, highlight the passages that please you most. Then
highlight the passages that displease you and work to turn the one into the other.
11) PROPORTION: As ou read, ask yourself what interests you the most. Then take a look at
what's left and decide whether it's really needed.
12) CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONAND EXPOSITION: Don't describe your characters all at once.
Let your readers meet them slowly, naturally.
13) DON'T LET THEM SEE YOU SWEAT: Beware of words like "very" and "rather," strings of
adjectives, fancy imagery, overuse of italics, and exclamation points.
14) ELLIPSIS: Check your work for blow-by-blow descriptions and work to condense them.