Checklist for Self-Editing

Here is a handy checklist from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This is a book I recommend to my editing clients and something I like to look at for my own work every so often.

• How many "ing" and "as" phrases do you write? Remember, the only ones that count are the ones that place a bit of action in a subordinate clause.

• How about "ly" adverbs. Both tied to your dialogue and within your descriptions and narration.

• Do you have a lot of short sentences, both within your dialogue and within your description and narration?

• Do you use a lot of italics? We mean a lot of italics. And you don’t use many exclamation points, do you?!!

• Are there any metaphors or flowery phrases you’re particularly proud of. Do they come at key times during your plot? If so, think about getting rid of them.

• How much time have you spent moving your characters around? Do you cut from location to location, or do you fill in all the space in between?

• How much detail have you included in describing our character’s action? Try cutting some of the detail and see if the actions are still clear.

• Take a look at your flashbacks. How often are you interrupting the forward flow of your story? Do you have flashbacks at more than one level—that is, flashbacks from flashbacks? It you spend nearly as much time in the past as in the present, take a look at each flashback individually. If it were cut, would the present story be hard to follow?

• Keep in mind what you’re trying to do with each paragraph—what character point you’re trying to establish, what sort of mood you’re trying to create, what background you’re trying to suggest. In how many different ways are you accomplishing each of these?

• If more than one way, try reading the passage without the weakest approach and see if it isn’t more effective.

• Do you have more than one chapter that accomplishes the same thing?

• Is there a plot device or stylistic effect you are particularly pleased with? How often do you use it?

• Keep a lookout for unintentional word repeats. The more striking a word or phrase is, the more jarring it will be if you repeat it.

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.


  1. Heidi, great self-editing pointers! And, for paragraphs, they should be made up of a mixture of sentence lengths. And, shorter sentences can be used to help build up tension.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

  2. Yes! I need this. Thanks for the post. I'll look into getting the book too.

  3. I'm taking away a lot to think about from this article. Thanks for making me think.


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