You finished your manuscript. Yay! You're done, right? Um... not quite. Whether you're sending to a critique partner, agent or a professional editor -- no matter who your audience is once you've typed The End, self-editing can go a long way! Even after you've done all of the big-picture edits (Is my characterization consistent? What about my level of description?) a few pointed turns through your manuscript can make a huge difference.
- Do a search for the word "just". In 98% of cases, it can -- and should -- be eliminated.
- Check your character names. Make sure they don't all start with the same letter, otherwise they blend together. Also, make sure they're not odd and unpronounceable just for the sake of it.
- Search for the word "nodded". Eliminate any instances of "her head/his head" that follow.
- Same thing with shrugged. Eliminate any instances of shoulders that follow.
- Pay attention to dialogue tags. Says and said are so unobtrusive, they're almost invisible. Anything else (snarled, murmured, growled, etc) should be used sparingly for impact.
- Laughed/grinned/smiled are not dialogue tags. This is a personal pet peeve of mine. Someone may, in fact, laugh when saying something, but the dialogue should end with a period, not a comma. For example: "I don't know what he was thinking." Anna laughed.
- Pay attention to how often your characters call each other by name when speaking. In real life, people don't do this and it makes the dialogue feel forced.
- Beware of adverbs. Sometimes only an adverb will do. And sometimes a word substitution is all you need. She ran slowly across the field could just as easily be She jogged across the field. By the same rule, running implies speed. If your character's super fast say, She sprinted.
- Be aware of stage directing your characters. AKA -- describing in extreme detail every movement your character is making. It may be super important to explain, Jake turned away from the bar, glanced at the jukebox and then turned back to place his empty pint glass on the gleaming wood before shuffling towards the door. But, it feels more powerful to me to say something like, Jake left his empty pint glass on the bar and shuffled towards the door, glancing at the jukebox as he passed.
- Read it aloud. Grab a cup of tea/coffee/beer, put your feet up and start reading. There are programs that will do this for you, although the voices sound pretty robotic and you may miss nuances, so it helps to alternate between reading yourself and letting the robot read for you. It's tedious, but oh-so-helpful!
What would you add? What are your self-editing must's?