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Self Editing for Fiction Writers: 10 Tips for Editing Your Novel like a Pro

Self Editing for Fiction Writers

Alright, my fellow writer warriors, buckle up! We’re about to do a deep dive on self-editing for fiction writers. Now, I won’t mince words here. In the early days of my writing career, self-editing was about as much fun as stepping on Lego.

In the dark.


Sure, I loved the thrill of the initial creation process. I enjoyed spinning words into worlds and breathing life into characters. But when it came time to take that creative chaos and mould it into a polished, reader-friendly novel…

I felt as lost as a hamster dropped in the middle of the Sahara.

Despite my best efforts, I struggled with a ton of things, including:

  • Maintaining objectivity about my work
  • Identifying structural issues
  • Fine-tuning my characters’ development

And my prose.

My typos developed the uncanny ability to camouflage themselves. They hid in plain sight until they ambushed unsuspecting readers. And don’t get me started on pacing! Trying to find the right balance often felt like walking a tightrope over a pit of hungry vipers.

Then I discovered Fictionary.

Suddenly, self-editing wasn’t akin to a trek through Mordor anymore. Fictionary armed me with comprehensive story editing tools. I felt like I had my very own literary GPS, guiding me step by step through the daunting landscape of self-editing.

Fictionary helps me analyse my manuscript against key story elements. The software offers invaluable insights and recommendations. It turns the arduous task of self-editing into a manageable, even enjoyable process. It’s like I’ve got a seasoned story editor looking over my shoulder, ready with a sage nod or a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Now, I want to pass the torch to you, share the magic of Fictionary, and help you transform your self-editing process.

So, let’s embark on this adventure together, shall we?

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What is Self Editing for Fiction Writers?

What is self editing

It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty of self-editing.

No, it’s not a secret club for book nerds (although, wouldn’t that be fun?). It’s an essential process in the life cycle of your novel and it comes in three distinct, yet equally important, phases.

Phase one: Story editing

This is where you channel your inner Sherlock Holmes, examining your manuscript for vital story elements, including:

  • Story structure
  • Character development
  • Plot and pacing
  • Narrative coherence
  • Immersive settings

And here’s the fun part.

Fictionary is your trusty Watson, making this detective work a breeze. It offers an intuitive, user-friendly platform that makes story editing more of an adventure than a chore.

Phase two: Copy editing

At this stage, you’re smoothing out rough edges. This is where you tackle prose issues, including:

  • Grammar
  • Sentence structure
  • Confusing syntax

Essentially, you’re the Marie Kondo of your prose, ensuring everything gets tidied up and sparks joy.

Phase three: Proofreading

Proofreading for Fiction Writers

This is the last sweep. It’s where you squint at every comma and scrutinise each semicolon. It’s the spit-and-polish phase, ensuring your novel is as shiny and scuff-free as a newly minted coin.

In the grand theatre of self-editing, these three phases are your acts. Master them, and you’re well on your way to a standing ovation.

Break a leg!

Why is Self Editing So Difficult?

Now, why is self-editing the Mount Everest of novel writing?

Well, imagine trying to find your way through a dense forest you planted. You’ve watched every tree grow, tended to each one, and know all the paths like the back of your hand. Suddenly, you’re asked to assess the forest objectively.

A tall order, right?

That’s the thing about self-editing. It demands you to turn a critical eye to your own creative output. That’s like asking a parent to choose their least favourite child.


Being objective about our work is tough, partly because our minds play an encore of the creative process when we read our words. We remember what we intended to say, which can blind us to what’s actually on the page.

That’s where Fictionary flies in like your superhero sidekick. It helps provide that crucial objectivity, guiding you through the story editing process with grace, precision, and yes, a dash of fun. It’s a life-saver, folks!

10 Top Self Editing Tips for Fiction Writers

Editing Tips for Fiction Writers

1. Celebrate

You’ve completed your first draft. Huzzah!

But don’t underestimate the importance of taking the time to celebrate your hard work. It’s like finishing a marathon. Your writing muscles are exhausted, and your creative reservoir is running dry.

Celebrating your achievement not only lifts your spirits but also validates the effort and time you’ve invested. So bake that cake, pop that champagne, or dance like no one’s watching! You’ve poured your heart and soul into every chapter, character, and plot twist. Remember, writing is as much about the journey as the destination, and every completed first draft is a testament to your commitment to your craft.

2. Put it in a Drawer

Once the celebrations die down, it’s time for some separation. Think of this phase as hitting the ‘refresh’ button on your writer’s perspective.

When you’re deeply entrenched in your story, it’s challenging to view it objectively.

That’s why stepping away from your manuscript is a vital part of the editing process. Give yourself a breather. A week, a month, whatever you need. Catch up on your reading, take a vacation, or start brainstorming your next novel. When you return to your manuscript, you’ll have a renewed perspective. This will enable you to spot inconsistencies, plot holes, and areas for improvement that you might’ve missed earlier.

3. Assess your Story Arc for Structure and Pacing

Fictionary Story Arc

When you return to your manuscript, start by assessing the larger picture.

An interesting story arc is fundamental to captivating your readers. Does your story have a clear beginning, middle, and end? Does your plot develop at a pace that keeps your readers engaged? Is the structure of your story coherent?

Tools like Fictionary can be instrumental at this stage.

Fictionary provides visual representations of your story arc. These visual insights enable you to identify areas of your narrative that require fine-tuning. Remember, effective pacing is key to maintaining reader engagement, so ensure your story doesn’t plateau or spiral out of control.

4. Name Every Scene and its Purpose

As you delve deeper into your story, shift your focus to individual scenes.

Each scene should serve a distinct purpose. Whether it’s advancing the plot, developing characters, or enhancing the setting.

Identify and articulate the purpose of every scene. If a scene doesn’t contribute to the overall narrative or character development, it might be a candidate for the chopping block. Remember, every word counts, and being ruthless in your editing can lead to a tighter, more polished manuscript.

5. Write Your Blurb and Synopsis

Fictionary Skeleton Blurb

Writing a captivating blurb and a comprehensive synopsis can serve as an excellent self-editing tool.

These summaries force you to distil your sprawling narrative into its most essential elements.

This can help you identify the backbone of your story and ensure it’s strong. Your blurb and synopsis should effectively communicate your story’s unique appeal. This exercise can help you see your novel from a reader’s (or a literary agent’s) perspective and clarify your story’s selling points.

6. Write a Synopsis for Every Scene

This may seem tedious, but it’s worth the effort.

By writing a synopsis for each scene, you’ll ensure that every scene contributes to your story. Does the scene advance the plot, reveal something new about a character, or provide essential background information?

If a scene doesn’t serve a rational purpose, consider revising or removing it. This process can also help you spot redundancies and gaps in your narrative.

7. Write the Character Arc for all Key Characters

Characters are the lifeblood of your story.

As you self-edit, map out each key character’s arc to ensure they experience meaningful growth or change.

A flat character can quickly bore readers. Make sure your characters face challenges, learn, grow, and react to events in a way that is consistent with their personalities. This will not only make your characters more relatable, but also increase reader engagement.

8. Worldbuilding: Make Your Setting Matter

In every splendid story, the setting plays a crucial role in defining the atmosphere, culture, and even the behaviour of your characters.

So take the time to scrutinise your settings.

Are they vividly portrayed, enhancing the readers’ experience? Does your setting reflect the tone and mood you’re aiming for? A carefully crafted setting can add depth and authenticity to your narrative.

9. Be Multisensory

Effective storytelling appeals to the reader’s senses.

As you edit, check whether you’re providing a multisensory experience for your readers. Have you described what your characters see, hear, smell, taste, and touch?

Incorporating sensory details into your narrative can make your readers feel closer to the story. It’s as if they’re amid the action, creating a more immersive reading experience.

10. Make Sure Your Ending is Satisfying

The ending of your story should provide a satisfying conclusion to your readers.

It should tie up any loose ends and resolve any conflicts or mysteries introduced in the narrative.

As you edit, consider whether your ending is true to your story and characters, and whether it leaves a lasting impact. Remember, a memorable ending can turn a casual reader into a lifelong fan.

Bonus Tip

Fictionary Story Map

Self-editing is a journey. You might feel you’re running a marathon (with many hurdles). But every step brings you closer to refining your work, polishing your narrative, and enhancing your storytelling skills.

So strap in, embrace the process, and get ready for an enriching adventure in the realm of self-editing!

Copy Edit for Grammar, Spelling and Style at the Sentence Level

This stage of self-editing requires a meticulous eye.

It’s all about refining the details, making sure every word, phrase, and sentence supports your story.

Grammar and spelling errors can slip past even the most diligent writers. That’s why this process is crucial. A novel riddled with errors can distract readers, and, frankly, it doesn’t do your brilliant ideas justice.

Consider each sentence individually.

Does it convey your intended meaning? Is it grammatically sound? Are the words spelled correctly? Do the style and tone match the rest of your manuscript? Be vigilant about things like punctuation, syntax, and verb tense consistency. This may sound laborious, but believe me, it’s worth it.

Don’t forget about style. This isn’t just about the rules. It’s about your voice. Make sure your sentences flow well, vary in length and structure, and reflect your unique style. Your words should paint a vivid, coherent picture for your readers. After all, marvellous stories aren’t just told.

They’re skillfully crafted.

Get someone else to Proofread

No matter how thorough you are, it’s difficult to spot every mistake in your own work.

That’s where a second set of eyes comes in handy. After you’ve completed your self-edit, consider enlisting a trusted friend. Or a family member. Or professional proofreader. Allow them to scrutinise your manuscript.

Proofreaders can provide an objective perspective. They’ll catch errors you might have missed. They’re not emotionally attached to your work. This distance enables them to spot inconsistencies, awkward phrasings, or those elusive typos that have evaded you.

Remember to take their feedback with grace.

It’s easy to get defensive about your work, but remember, they’re trying to help you improve your manuscript. Their fresh insights can help elevate your work to new heights. So brew a pot of tea, brace yourself, and take their advice to heart. You won’t regret it.

Be Brave: Share Your Story with Trusted Beta Readers

Sharing your work can feel like baring your soul, but it’s a necessary step in the writing process.

Trusted beta readers can provide valuable feedback that can help you further refine your novel. They represent your potential readers and can provide insights into how those readers might receive your story.

Choose your beta readers carefully. They should be people you trust to provide honest and constructive feedback. A chorus of praise might feel good, but it doesn’t help you grow as a writer. You want beta readers who will tell you what works and what doesn’t, who your characters truly are to them, and how they feel about your story’s pacing and plot.

Gird your loins for the feedback, both good and bad.

Use it as a tool to revisit your work with fresh eyes and a new perspective.

After all, writing is an act of courage. It’s about constantly learning, adapting, and‌ never giving up. So share your story, soak up the feedback, and remember, every talented writer was once where you are now.

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Self-Editing FAQs

Self Editing Questions

What Are the Most Common Self-Editing Mistakes And How Can I Fix Them?

Well, well, well, aren’t we all prone to a few mistakes? When self-editing, the most common slip-ups include:

  • Overlooking repetitive language
  • Losing sight of character consistency
  • Muddling the plot with too many subplots

What’s the fix?

Keep an eagle eye on your use of language.

Consider using a tool like Fictionary to track your characters and ensure they remain true to their development throughout your story.

As for the plot, always check whether every scene contributes to the main story arc. If a scene, or even a subplot, isn’t driving your main plot forward or enriching your characters, it may be time to wield that editing axe.

How Can I Stop Being A Perfectionist When Self-Editing?

Ah, the lure of perfection.

It can be like a siren’s call to us writers. However, pursuing perfection can sometimes lead to endless revisions without progress.

Self-editing is about enhancing your manuscript, not achieving unattainable perfection. Set yourself a limit on the number of edits you’ll make. This helps you focus on the most significant issues instead of getting lost in the weeds.

How Will I Know When I’m Ready to Work with A Professional Editor?

Excellent question!

You’re ready to work with a professional editor once you’ve done everything you can on your own.

You’ve revised, you’ve honed, you’ve story-edited, and you’ve proofread.

When you feel you’ve taken your manuscript as far as you can on your own, it’s time to hand it over to a professional. They can help take your work to the next level and provide insights that you may have overlooked. Even the best authors have editors.

It’s all part of the process.

Conclusion: Self Editing for Fiction Writers

Well, my fellow writers, we’ve navigated the treacherous seas of self-editing together. And if I may say so, I think we’ve handled it rather like literary Vikings. Battleaxe in one hand, quill in the other.

Let’s take a moment to breathe, shall we?

We’ve explored the wide-ranging arenas of story editing, copy-editing, and proofreading. We’ve clambered over the daunting hurdles of objectivity and perfectionism. And we’ve maintained the courage to kill our darlings.

Then dove deep into the realm of self-editing with our 10 spectacular tips. We celebrated, let our manuscripts rest, and waded neck-deep into the self-editing pool.

You should be proud of yourself.

And, above all, remember this…

Self-editing isn’t about achieving elusive perfection. It’s about polishing our raw narrative gem into a sparkling masterpiece, one meticulous revision at a time. Now, let’s unsheathe those red pens and edit like pros.

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Article Written by Shane Millar

Shane Millar

Shane Millar is a Fictionary Certified Story Coach and the author of the Write Better Fiction craft guides. He is also the author of the Myth & Magic and Chosen Vampire urban fantasy thriller series.

Shane holds a BA in journalism and is a member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). He lives in Buckinghamshire, England.

He has taken too many writing courses to count and enjoys reading as much as possible. Shane is obsessed with five things: the writing craft, mythology, personal development, food, and martial arts movies.

Want to hire Shane to edit your novel? Visit: