Let’s put it right out there: It’s hard to write a good story. There’s so much to think about, so many elements to corral—character development, plot, pace, dialogue, setting—it’s all important.

And now, you’ve done it! You’ve got a manuscript for your novel, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You’ve gotten to know your characters and given them conflict and motivation and all that good stuff. But it’s still really rough. What do you do now?

Of course, you can rush out and hire a developmental editor to help you polish and get it in shape for submission. But you should be your first, best editor. After all, it’s your voice, your imagination, and they’re your ideas. A little time and being honest with yourself can only help you produce the best manuscript possible.

Here are a few quick tips for self-editing that will save you time and probably money down the road:

Analyze your scenes.
One of the ways to get your arms around whatever you’re trying to write is to think in terms of scenes. Find the places where things happen in your manuscript, and see if you’ve created a scene that accomplishes something important. Does your scene:

  1. Introduce a character
  2. Establish a conflict
  3. Mark a turning point
  4. Resolve a conflict

In other words, what do your scenes SHOW? How do they advance the plot? If they do neither of those things, think about either eliminating them altogether or converting them to narration.

Look for your personal “tics”
We all have bad writing habits. Mine is to unconsciously filter a scene for the reader: “she heard,” or “she felt,” or “he noticed.” Do a quick search through your manuscript and make sure you’re not overdoing the, “I’m putting you in my character’s head and I want you to know it” places. Usually, those phrases can simply be eliminated, thereby strengthening your prose.

Other habits I’ve seen:

  • Starting too many sentences with prepositional phrases (As soon as possible, he…)
  • Starting too many sentences with gerund phrases (Turning around, she…)
  • Overuse of passive voice (a mistake was made instead of he made a mistake—although the choice of passive voice in many instances can be a matter of style)
  • Dialogue tags that are overly descriptive or include adverbs (“I love you,” she said breathily; “How wonderful!” he exclaimed). Dialogue tags are best kept to said or asked or eliminated altogether when it’s clear who’s talking. They become invisible to the reader, only acting as quick signposts so the reader can follow a conversation.

Scan your text for white space
What? Yes. You heard me. Make sure you don’t have a paragraph that goes on for pages. Look for variety in sentence and paragraph length. It helps make your text more readable.

Eliminate expositional backstory
Very often inexperienced writers will begin their stories by dumping everything they think the reader needs to know into the beginning of the novel. I know this, because that’s almost always what happens in my own first drafts! LOL! It is probably useful to you as the writer to articulate all that information, but take a good hard look at it and cut, cut, cut to the barest essentials of what the reader needs to know in order to get involved in the story.

And of course, do all this without letting your inner critic destroy your self-confidence!
It’s a bit of a balancing act. Writing involves being extremely confident and overly critical at the same time. Pat yourself on the back for completing a manuscript—not many people can do it. Celebrate what’s good about your story. And then dig back into it with an eye to making it even better.

You can do it!