Self-Editing: Ferocious or Fluffy?

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I used to hate editing.

Now I love it! Due to Jerry Jenkins and his ferocious editing techniques (I am currently a founding member in the Jerry Jenkins Writer’s Guild), Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, Revision and Self-Editing or Publication by James Scott Bell, and Doctor Dennis Hensley I have a new outlook on editing.

Some of my favorite techniques for a great manuscript include:

  1. Use an active voice not a passive voice. Passive words include was, as, is, are, etc.



Passive: The book was read to the child by the parent.

Active:   The parent read the book to the child.


  1. Use plain words, not fancy. Write clearly omitting confusion with words and writing. Be direct, simple, and plain. Just talk to me.


One thing I’ve learned from Doc Hensley is that every reader is at different educational level. I know when someone pics up my books, I want them to be able to read the story and get lost in another world and not focus on me, the author, tripping over big words.


  1. Use specific nouns and action verbs. Don’t say house, but mansion, castle, shack, hut, or even tent or Tipi. Don’t say hit, but perhaps tapped, slapped, knocked out, smacked, cuffed, whacked.


  1. Leave clichés out of your story. Did you know waking up to an alarm clock is a cliché? How about to a water gun in your characters face, or a sister missing from bed as in Hunger Games. Be unique. Wake up readers with a new way of experiencing the world. Remember no fumbling for the beeping alarm.


  1. Avoid verbs like: slightly smiles, almost laughed, frowned a bit…The character either did it or not. “Seemed to” is one of my favorites that I had to cut, cut, cut!


  1. Avoid similar character names. In my book Delbert’s Weir I had two characters with similar names: Delbert, the main character, and Danny. I have Jed––three friends on a wilderness adventure. My editor suggest I change Danny’s name because both began with the letter D. I hadn’t thought much of it because to me the characters are complete opposites. But she was correct, so I changed Danny to Ross. Any confusion dissipated immediately.


  1. Cut needless words, sentences, and paragraphs. Have you ever had to totally rearrange chapters? Yikes! I have. But upon a second and third reading, the prose was tight, action was immediate and suspense was in the forefront. In the end, the book flowed like a sparkling mountain creek and is my best work yet.


  1. Here’s is a new one to me, but an important one that Hollywood writers use: no on-the-nose writing, which refers to mirroring real life without adding to the story. Readers don’t need to know every detail, especially in dialogue. Get to the point and move on. Show the action and keep spiraling forward. In dialogue, omit hello, how are you…simply get to the action. Keep the tension. On-the-nose writing slows down the pace and bores the reader.


  1. Another new and fun term: RUE or “resist the urge to explain”. Explaining actually trips readers up. Here is an example of explaining:


Sam was mad. He pounded the table. If Sam pounded the table, reader doesn’t need to be told he was mad. Pounding shows it, don’t tell it.

“Rita, you’re driving me crazy,” she said, angrily. Delete angrily, reader knows she’s angry by her words.

“You can do it!” Bill exclaimed. The exclamation mark shows that, just use said.

“I disagree,” Madison argued.  Reader knows she is arguing if she state’s she disagrees. Just use said.


  1. Avoid shop or jargon talk. The reader may not get it. Be basic in language and use familiar words because we don’t all speak the same language.


I am my own worst editor. If I read the text out loud, I read it as it should be, not how it is typed on the page. The same is true if my word program reads to me. I can catch many mistakes, but not all. When I keep my list in front of me while self-editing, I catch many more common mistakes than I would without my cheat sheets.


I would like to hear about self-editing techniques that help you.

~ It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly. – C. J. Cherryh


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  1. I have a list of weak words I keep by my side and avoid using; it includes words like ‘turned’ and ‘looked’ we have a habit of depending upon. I also go through my mss and search out ‘that’–if a sentence makes sense without ‘that’, take it out, otherwise yr ms. will be riddled with the word. Happy editing!

    1. carmenpeone says:

      Andrea, I have the same type of list as of a couple of months ago. That really helps. “Noticed” is another word to add to looked and turned. In my last manuscript every character smiled all the time! I did go back the change that. I guess I like happy people.

  2. Thanks Carmen, these are great tips for editing. I know I especially find it difficult to refrain from using passive voice. Also, I’ve always been guilty of using nomenclature with which some or even most readers are unfamiliar. As a former teacher I have always done that to increase vocabulary. When I’ve done so, I guess I’ve always hoped those terms could be understood in context.

    I’ve found that the Amazon KDP program is great for getting that finished product, maybe not perfection, but hopefully excellence. I go into KDP almost daily to make edits to my ebooks.

    1. carmenpeone says:

      Chris, I agree. Passive gets me every time! I hope these help.
      Best wishes.

  3. These are excellent suggestions, Carmen. I am in this process right now and am thankful for these tips.

    1. carmenpeone says:

      Mary, aren’t they great reminders! I’m glad they are helping you also. I have to glance at them often to keep me on track. Enjoy!