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Self-editing For Writers

By Expert Author: Stephen Simmons

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.' An action lets you know what that character is doing at that moment, while an attribution, while it may contain an action, doesn't have to.
How many ands do you have in one sentence? Do your sentences seem really long and you feel like you need to stop a moment to catch your breath and then continue on to see if you can finish it all? 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. You wouldn't believe how often that can just pop up in a sentence just like that without any regard at all that it really isn't necessary. Did you catch that? Not every instance in that long sentence was useful. 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.

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