Every writer needs to learn to self-edit. This doesn’t mean you don’t need an editor, but it will help you get more for your editing dollar because your editor can focus on the big issues instead of the small ones.
What do you look for?
Make sure you have your quotation marks in the right places. Don’t forget them at the end of the dialogue. Make sure they are all the same. If you use straight quotes, make them all straight. If you use curly quotes, make them all curly. Whatever you use, be consistent.
While we’re talking about dialogue, watch your punctuation.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said.
is different than
“I don’t know what to do.” She frowned.
Can you tell the difference? The attribution in the first sentence tells the reader the character said that line. In the second, it isn’t an attribution, it’s an action. Because of that, you need a period at the end of the dialogue and you need to capitalize ‘she.’
How many ands do you have in one sentence? It can be very tempting to fit everything into one sentence, but you need to learn to read it objectively and know when to break it up. Reading loooong sentences can feel like you’re running out of breath when you read… keep those sentences varied in length and tight.
Speaking of tight… some words don’t need to be there. The two biggest culprits are very and that. Very is easy… you don’t need to use it… ever… unless it is in dialogue and your character would use that word. That can be a bit trickier. It can be insidious. It pops up all over the place, rather like dandelions in a lawn. There are a few times when it truly is warranted, but not as often as it would make you believe.
There are more things you need to learn when it comes to self-editing, of course, but this will get you started. We’ll probably add more on another post.
John and Toni Rakestraw are the owners of Rakestraw Book Design. Toni is the editor; she keeps all those words in line. John is the voice of the company. He can often be found hosting Google+ Hangouts on writing and issues writers face online. Archives for his shows can be found on YouTube.