From Authors to Authors: Five Self-Editing Tips for Fiction Writers

Welcome to a new installment of our From Authors to Authors series. Author Nicki J. Markus (also publishes as Asta Idonea) is back on the blog with a piece on self-editing tips for fiction writers.

Greetings. My name is Nicki and I am both an author and an editor. Last time I was here I shared my top five tips to help you avoid common writer mistakes. Today I will expand on that with five more self-editing tips to get your manuscript in good shape, ready for submission.

1) Consistency

As you read through your finished manuscript, one of the key areas to consider is consistency. First drafts tend to be written over several months and it is, therefore, easy for inconsistencies to slip in. For example, does one of your characters have blond hair in one scene but brown hair in another? Does your timeline seem accurate? E.g. If scene one took place on a Saturday and scene two is four days later, but you say it’s Thursday, something is wrong. There’s no one-button fix for this. My suggestion is to read through the work in as short a time span as your schedule allows, without long breaks between sessions. This way, you should remember well enough to spot any problems.

2) Overused Words

Overused words include the tired old favourites such as said, walked, laughed etc. Of course, you may, and should, use these when they are appropriate, but always run a check to see how often they occur. If there are a bunch of ‘said’ within the page, consider changing a few to synonyms, or omitting them completely (see points three and four below). More dynamic language will keep your prose interesting. Just remember to strike a balance. After all, while you don’t want to sound boring, you also don’t want to sound like a thesaurus!

3) Repetition

Repetition ties in with overused words in so far as you want to try to avoid using the same language again and again. However, it can also include repetition of information. As you review your book, take note of what you are telling the reader. It is easy, in a first draft, to repeat yourself as you seek the best phrasing. If you have outlined the situation for a reader, check that you aren’t repeating that information with different wording later in the same paragraph or in the next. You’d be surprised how often it happens. When you spot it, simply keep the version you like the best and omit or tweak the other.

4) Dialogue Tags

Earlier we mentioned ‘said’ as a word often overused. One way to avoid this is to look carefully at your dialogue tags and ask if they are truly necessary. A constant stream of he said–she said is tedious. Consider each line of dialogue to see if you need a tag. Sometimes you do, if it’s a conversation within a large group, with many possible speakers. However, if it’s a two-way conversation, you’ll find you can omit most of them without loss of clarity over who is saying what. Another option is to exchange a few tags for actions, as in the example below.

“I’m not comfortable here,” Bob said, fidgeting.

Bob fiddled with his cuff. “I’m not comfortable here.”

5) Passive Voice

Passive tense is sometimes a contentious issue. It’s not always a bad thing. The trick is to know when to use it and when to avoid it. You should employ it in the following situations:

  • When the agent of the action is unknown
  • When you wish to place focus on the object, rather than the subject
  • To express a general truth

However, it’s best to avoid it if we know the agent of the action and there is no need to emphasise the object over that agent. The good news is, it’s easy to make a passive sentence active. Usually, all it takes is to change the word order and omit the verb ‘to be’.

(Passive) The bag was stolen by Bob.

(Active) Bob stole the bag.

self-editing tips for fiction writers

Hope you’ve enjoyed Nicki’s top self-editing tips for fiction writers. If you found this useful and want to know more about Nicki, please read on. If you want to share your own tips or ask some questions, please do so in the comment section.

About the Author

Nicki J. Markus/Asta Idonea was born in England but now lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She has loved both reading and writing from a young age and is also a keen linguist, having studied several foreign languages.

Nicki launched her writing career in 2011 and divides her efforts not only between MM and mainstream works but also between traditional and indie publishing. Her works span the genres, from paranormal to historical and from contemporary to fantasy. It just depends what story and which characters spring into her mind!

As a day job, Nicki works as a freelance editor and proofreader, and in her spare time she enjoys music, theatre, cinema, photography, and sketching. She also loves history, folklore and mythology, pen-palling, and travel, all of which have provided plenty of inspiration for her writing.


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A pleasure to meet you! I’m Alina Popescu, an author, traveler, and hopeless coffee addict. I write urban fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and sometimes even contemporary stories. A significant number of my books are LGBTQ fiction and romance.

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