Speculative Fiction Writing Made Simple

8 Essential Hacks for Self-Editing Your Manuscript to Perfection

May 02, 2024 Heather Davis
8 Essential Hacks for Self-Editing Your Manuscript to Perfection
Speculative Fiction Writing Made Simple
More Info
Speculative Fiction Writing Made Simple
8 Essential Hacks for Self-Editing Your Manuscript to Perfection
May 02, 2024
Heather Davis

Snag my FREE workbook: resources.manyworldswriting.com/edit 


Almost every writer wants to get better at self-editing their work. But how? And which techniques improve your work the most dramatically?


In this episode I’m going to talk about the self-editing hacks that will help you rapidly improve your work as you write and edit. 


 In this episode you’ll learn:


  1. The 8 self-editing hacks that can rapidly improve your prose.
  2. How to use paragraphing for style, emphasis, and pacing. 
  3. Tips on developing your writing Voice. 
  4. And so much more…
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Snag my FREE workbook: resources.manyworldswriting.com/edit 


Almost every writer wants to get better at self-editing their work. But how? And which techniques improve your work the most dramatically?


In this episode I’m going to talk about the self-editing hacks that will help you rapidly improve your work as you write and edit. 


 In this episode you’ll learn:


  1. The 8 self-editing hacks that can rapidly improve your prose.
  2. How to use paragraphing for style, emphasis, and pacing. 
  3. Tips on developing your writing Voice. 
  4. And so much more…
Speaker 1:

Self-editing your work is one of the most important skills you can have as a writer, even if you work with a book coach or a developmental editor, it's best to hone your self-editing skills so that you and your coach or editor can focus on higher-level issues instead of getting stuck in the weeds and wasting your time and money and, honestly, learning good self-editing skills is an excellent way to improve your writing in general. Hello and welcome to the Speculative Fiction Made Simple podcast. I'm your host, heather Davis. I'm a book coach, developmental editor and fellow storyteller, and this is the show that's all about how to brainstorm, write, edit, publish and sell a powerful speculative fiction novel and maybe just change the world too. As a book coach and developmental editor, I work with a lot of writers throughout the year and I've noticed a big difference between those writers who rapidly improve their skills and get to the end of their manuscript in a reasonable amount of time, and those who seem to get lost in their own work and don't make much progress at all, and that thing is you guessed it self-editing. The reason for this phenomenon, I think, is because self-editing is the physical work we do after we reflect on our own writing Meaning when we write. It's great to just let all that creativity flow out of us unimpeded, but once we do that, we need to go back and reread our work and learn to view it in a new way. We, if you don't self-edit, it's a pretty good in, and actually, if you don't self-edit, it's a pretty good indication that you are not deeply engaging with your own work. I know I know saying to self-edit and actually self-editing effectively are two very different things. In order to be able to self-edit, we need an editing toolbox. To get tools from Meaning, we need to think of a few things that if we pay attention to them and we edit them after we're done writing a scene, it can really make a dramatic difference in the quality of the writing. So that's what I'm here to share with you today. I want to share with you the eight self-editing hacks that will make any manuscript better. Fast. Self-editing hack number one Make sure your scene is actually moving the narrative forward in meaningful ways. Look, if you've been listening to this podcast for any length of time. You've heard me say it before, but it's a writing truism, so I'm going to say it again.

Speaker 1:

Stories are inherently about change, but sometimes scenes creep in that don't actually matter to the narrative. We could remove them and nothing externally in the plot or internally in the protagonist would change. Essentially, the scene is moving characters around the set of your novel, but it's not accomplishing much else. These kinds of scenes are insidious and when they creep into your novel they can ruin your tension and your suspense and your narrative drive and, worse than that, they can make the reader lose interest. But the good news is you can spot these scenes pretty easily when you're looking for them.

Speaker 1:

Be on the lookout for scenes where the characters are just sort of moving about their normal day, scenes where you are just cataloging what they do. In these scenes your protagonist doesn't really have any profound conversations that reveal their character and nothing really happens that moves the plot forward. Maybe they get up and they have breakfast and they go to the gym and they talk to the guy in the lobby All sorts of things that a person would actually do throughout their day. But your reader would be bored to tears if you told them about it A lot of times. If you imagine taking a scene like this out, you could honestly summarize the gist of it in one simple sentence. So if you find one of these insidious scenes creeping into your novel and you probably will at some point you should quickly and ruthlessly select it and delete it from your novel.

Speaker 1:

Okay, okay. None of us writers actually like to do that. We get very attached to the words that we wrote and we always like to think the best of them. So I've got a suggestion that might help you get them out of your novel and not feel so bad about doing it when I have a scene that I really like but isn't doing the job it needs to do. But I'm still in denial about it. I still think it's got some life in it, I still really like the prose and I still think I might be able to find a home for it somewhere in my novel. Eventually, what I like to do is this I gently, lovingly, copy it and paste it into a file that's sort of like a graveyard for scenes, and I can go there and visit it from time to time when I really miss it, just like I would visit a loved one in a real graveyard. And, honestly, just knowing that it still exists somewhere out there in another file, safe and sound, makes it much easier to pull it out and see how the novel reads without it.

Speaker 1:

Self-editing hack number two Make sure your protagonist is reacting internally to the events of the scene. Look, sometimes we get so caught up in what's happening in the plot and how to choreograph it that we forget the most important part of the scene, which is how the events affect your protagonist internally. So go through a scene after you write it and see if you've actually put your protagonist's internal reactions, thoughts, feelings, fears and questions on the page for the reader to experience. Remember how your protagonist interprets the events of the plot is the very thing that makes the reader care about those events. If you leave out your protagonist's interiority, then everything feels neutral and the reader won't care about the stakes. A great study novel for this technique is An Ember in the Ashes by Sabah Tahir. She does an absolutely marvelous job of making sure her character's interiority is felt on every page. Self-editing hack number three Check that the dialogue is serving the story and is formatted correctly.

Speaker 1:

Dialogue is something that I see writers get wrong all the time, so I definitely suggest you take a few minutes to read through your dialogue and make sure it's the best it can be, because, honestly, poorly written dialogue is one of the easiest ways to shut readers out and make them decide not to keep reading. On the other hand, well-written dialogue really pulls readers in and makes them lose themselves in the narrative. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you're editing your dialogue. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you're editing your dialogue. Question one Is the dialogue either moving the plot forward or revealing the character in some important way? If it's not doing either of those things, it's probably not important dialogue and you probably should revise it. Question two Do the speakers sum up information that they both already know, just for the benefit of the reader? If so, you're probably going to want to revise it, because that sort of thing sounds unnatural and strange. People don't actually talk that way. One trick to fix this problem is to take a lot of what is explicitly being said in the dialogue and simply move it interior to the point of view character Meaning. As the two characters are talking, the point of view character can be thinking about the deeper meaning and the history that goes behind what is being said.

Speaker 1:

Question three have you created a new paragraph for every new speaker? Look, I know many older novels don't follow this rule, but modern novels do, and since you're writing for a modern audience, it's just a good rule to follow. The truth is, the dialogue written this way is much clearer and easier for the reader to follow, and that's what you want to keep them engaged. Question four have you made sure to almost exclusively use the dialogue tag said or says? Look, I know we get tired of looking at it on a page when we're writing, but the truth is the dialogue tag said or says is invisible to readers, meaning, even if you're tired of writing it and tired of looking at it on the page, it means almost nothing to the reader. They don't really get tired of seeing it. However, if you end up using words to replace said, like growled, laughed, exclaimed, questioned any of those things and a whole host of others, you run the risk of sounding like an amateur writer, because those actually pull the reader out of the story and make them remember that you're actually writing it. And you don't want them to remember that there's a writer behind what they're reading. You want them to be absolutely immersed in the story itself. So stick with says or said, and if you don't like to use a whole lot of dialogue tags, you can always throw in some action beats instead.

Speaker 1:

Question five Do the speakers address each other by name way too often? If they do, you'll definitely want to edit that out, because it just sounds clunky and unnatural. People, again, don't really talk like that. Question six have you used enough dialogue tags to let the reader know who's speaking?

Speaker 1:

Sometimes writers tend to get lost in their dialogue and the dialogue just sort of goes back and forth like a ball in a tennis match, and it's perfectly clear to the writer who's speaking. But when the reader reads it, they quickly lose track of who's saying what. And I can tell you from personal experience that when I have to go back over and over again to figure out who's talking, that when I have to go back over and over again to figure out who's talking, I give up, I put the book down and I do not keep reading. Question seven Is the dialogue too formal? Sometimes writers end up writing dialogue that sounds like their character is standing in front of an entire audience giving a TED Talk, and not a particularly interesting TED Talk, because there are no contractions, there are no sentence fragments and they're using a kind of grammar that is technically correct, but nobody actually speaks that way. So what you need to do is reread your dialogue, say it out loud, see if it sounds right, and definitely absolutely use contractions. Use sentence fragments where someone would naturally use a sentence fragment in their speech and apply the rules of grammar that people apply when they're talking, not when they're writing a paper for their English professor.

Speaker 1:

Question eight have your characters gone on monologues instead of having conversations? We all do it from time to time. We get lost writing dialogue from a particular character's point of view and it just seems to go on and on and on. Maybe we have five or six or seven or ten lines of dialogue. If you see this happening, you definitely need to break it up. You don't really want to have one character speak more than three or four lines at a time. Maybe once in a while you can get away with this, depending on what their conversation is about, but if you find yourself consistently doing this, you definitely need to edit it down Again three or four lines at most. Honestly, sometimes characters only say one or two lines, or maybe a single word. One way to break up these monologues is to just have another character ask them a question in order to draw out more of what they would have said in their monologue so that it seems like there's more of a back and forth with another character.

Speaker 1:

Question nine does the dialogue match the speaker? This is something that I see some writers struggle with. Sometimes their dialogue just sounds all the same. It sounds uniform. You could easily imagine any of the characters saying the exact same thing the same way. So what you need to think about when you're writing for a particular character is does what you have them saying for dialogue match their age, their education level, the region where they were born, their personality right? By asking yourself these questions, you can begin to tease out how different characters would actually say things in different ways and, honestly, if you're really good at this, you might find that you need dialogue tags a lot less often. Okay, woo, we're done with the dialogue self-editing. Now let's move on to self-editing. Hack number four Use your paragraphing for style, clarity and pacing.

Speaker 1:

Paragraphing is the least talked about but easiest trick to make a scene better and more engaging. Paragraphing adds style, provides crucial clarity and, perhaps most importantly, helps with pacing and can even help you build tension in the narrative. So what is paragraphing? Simple, it's where you choose to make a new paragraph. Really, it's that simple and, unlike all those essays you wrote in college, there are no real rules that govern exactly where you need to form a new paragraph when you're writing a novel. That means it's largely a stylistic choice.

Speaker 1:

Broadly speaking, big paragraphs in modern novels have about three to five sentences each, unless it's a paragraph with dialogue, and then the average is actually one to two sentences each, meaning paragraphs are getting shorter, and that's okay, because when paragraphs are shorter they are less intimidating to readers, and that's a good thing, because it means readers will be more likely to keep reading if they see four short paragraphs versus one gargantuan that spills all over the page. Also, paragraphs can be used for pacing and emphasis. For instance, if you want a sentence to be emphasized because the idea should stand out in readers' minds, make it stand out in its own paragraph. You can do that. There are no rules, heck. You can even make a single word its own paragraph for emphasis if you want to. As far as pacing goes, if you want a scene to feel faster and more intense and adrenaline pumping, like maybe a chase scene or a fight scene, you want shorter, choppier sentences and shorter paragraphs. However, if you want a slower, more introspective scene, you want longer sentences and longer paragraphs.

Speaker 1:

I highly suggest you pick up a few books that you love and see how the author uses their paragraphing to create certain effects in their novels. I truly believe that one of the best teachers of great writing is observation. So go observe Self-editing. Hack number five ditch the L-Y adverbs. In modern writing it's advised to limit L-Y adverbs because these words are considered amateur. The reason is because these words are actually shortcuts that allow the writer to plant a very general idea in the reader's head without actually describing anything specific. They rob the novel of its descriptive power. Some examples of this include the following phrases Jordan clenched his fists angrily. The little girl ran clumsily up the hill. She rubbed her hand over her face before eyeing him warily. With not too much effort, I could rewrite the sentences with a little more descriptive power like this Jordan clenched his fist until his knuckles bulged, taut and pale. The little girl stumbled sideways and slipped on the wet grass several times as she ran up the steep hill. She rubbed her hand down over her face and then squinted at him until tiny wrinkles collected around her eyes.

Speaker 1:

Look, I'm not here to pass judgment on adverbs and I'm not saying you need to strip every single one of them out of your novel. I'm just saying that most agents and editors will judge your work harshly if you use too many of them. In fact, if you open any novel published in the last decade, you'll see very few of these words wheedling their way into the prose, and when they are present, it usually denotes that the writer is writing for a younger audience or, in some cases, that the writer is going for a lighter, more whimsical approach to their prose. So my suggestion is to use them sparingly and if you see one, ask yourself if there is a better or more specific way you could describe what's happening in the scene. Self-editing hack number six Ditch the ing and as sentence constructions. Okay, so what the heck do I mean by ing and as sentence constructions? Anyway, here are two examples Dialing his number, she cleared her throat. And as she dialed his number, she cleared her throat.

Speaker 1:

Many writers love to throw these types of sentence constructions into their novel, just because they want to mix things up and use different types of sentence constructions into their novel. Just because they want to mix things up and use different types of sentence constructions. But sentences that begin with these types of dependent clauses have fallen out of favor because they make the writing sound weaker and you won't find them used very often in modern novels. This is because they have two inherent problems. First, they put one action as subordinate to another, making the subordinate action seem less important. Second, they often give rise to physical impossibilities. Let's consider the following sentence as Delphine closed her computer, she stood up and stretched. Now I bet you can imagine what's going on with Delphine here, but the truth is it's very unlikely that she was standing up and stretching at the same time that she was closing her computer. It's much more likely that she closed her computer first and then she stood up and stretched. So it's much better just to say that, for instance, we could turn that sentence into this one Delphine closed her computer and then stood and stretched. That's a much stronger sentence and it doesn't give rise to a weaker subordinate action. And there are no physical impossibilities there.

Speaker 1:

Self-editing hack seven you need to develop your writing voice. Writing is about more than just conveying your message clearly. It's also about using your words in a stylistic way, a unique way, a way that makes readers lean in and gobble up your work, because they love the rhythm of your prose. I'm sad to say it's impossible to really distill down how to develop your writing voice. But here's one thing I know for sure Voice is what stands between writers who find publishing success and those who don't. In my experience, developing your writing voice happens in three phases. In phase one, you recognize that, yes, voice really is a thing and it is the most important thing you need to develop in order to be a successful writer.

Speaker 1:

In phase two, you start analyzing the writing voices of your favorite modern authors. To do this, you get very analytical. You take notes on their sentence structures, their paragraphing, their phrasing and what kinds of information they include in a scene. Is there a lot of interiority? If so, how do they include it? How and when do they weave in backstory? How do they incorporate jumps in time? What kinds of words do they use to inspire emotion in the reader? How do they show emotion in the protagonist? What is their scene structure like? How do they begin and end their chapters? I actually like to keep a notebook with this information so I can refer back to it when I'm feeling lost and uninspired. I also use sticky notes to flag areas in a novel where the voice is spot on, so I can go back to it again and again and analyze how the author worked their magic. Phase three you start revising the scenes that you already wrote, using the stylistic choices you love Meaning. If your favorite authors opt for short, punchy paragraphs, you see if you can make yours shorter and punchier. If your favorite authors include a lot of protagonist interiority, you try to layer that information into your scenes so the reader can really get inside your protagonist's head and see the world the way they see it. Honestly, voice is something that develops slowly, but it is something that you need to work towards, and when you're editing your scenes, it's the perfect time to start experimenting with your writing voice, self-editing.

Speaker 1:

Hack eight Read your work out loud and listen to the way it sounds. One of the best ways to get better at writing and to be better at editing your own work is simply to go back and read your work out loud to yourself. Why? Because good writing has a rhythm to it, a flow, a kind of poetry that's nearly impossible to hear when you're reading silently. So find a quiet room and read your work out loud to yourself as you're writing and editing. It may feel silly as you're writing and editing. It may feel silly, but I promise you you will immediately begin to identify phrases, sentences and entire paragraphs that looked really good on paper but don't quite sound right to the ear. And as you revise so that your prose do sound good to the ear, your writing will dramatically improve.

Speaker 1:

Okay, writers, I hope this episode was really helpful. Please take a moment to snag the checklist that accompanies this episode. You can find that link right in the show notes. Also, please take a moment to follow this podcast and share it with a writer friend. It's a great way to show your support, and let me know that you're interested in hearing more. Until next time, keep writing, keep dreaming and remember the world needs your stories right now, so don't you dare give up on your novel or yourself. See you next time.

Effective Self-Editing for Writers
Dialogue and Paragraph Self-Editing Tips
Supporting Writers With Checklists and Encouragement