When writing a book or any piece of work, a short story, novella, article, etc. the writer must ensure that ideas are presented to the reader in a succinct and clear manner, so the work has maximum impact. The editing process not only encompasses a revision of grammar, word choice, spelling, syntax, and punctuation, it also involves consideration of content and improving the overall quality of the work. This means narrowing down the accuracy of details, ensuring the writer’s style remains consistent throughout the narrative as well as with character dialogue, removing redundancy, repetitive characters, phrases, and words, and checking that a steady rhythm is present throughout. Plot is also scrutinized for holes and suggestions are offered for how to plug them up.
Self-editing may not incorporate all of the above, and after self-editing your WIP I’d recommend hiring an experienced and vetted editor to take up where you left off. As aspiring authors, we can only go so far with editing our own work. It’s always a good idea to obtain a qualified opinion so your manuscript will shine.
I can’t stress enough the importance of avoiding repetition. It’s been my experience that newbies tend to say the same thing in different ways or use the same words throughout their narrative. This can extend to creating characters that are too similar, repeating their traits, or describing their appearance in different ways. My advice is to examine your narrative for some of these and delete, delete, delete. When editing my manuscripts, I use the word-find function to check for how many times I use a particular word. I then switch the redundant words out for similar words that accomplish the same thing.
Writers often differ when it comes to distinguishing a character’s thoughts. Some use dialogue tags such as “she thought” or “he wondered.” Some simply use italics to alert the reader to the inner thoughts of the character. George R. R. Martin applies a combination of both these methods in his, A Song of Fire and Ice, series. My opinion is to write in such a way that you need neither.
Go through your WIP and break up big paragraphs. Large paragraphs become tiresome and tedious to the reader. They can be a turn-off and cause the reader’s mind to wander away from your story. Shorter paragraphs help readers to peruse your narrative with ease, and hopefully without losing interest.
Shorter scenes and chapters can create tension, while longer scenes and chapters, if well-written, can establish a tranquil feel that lures the reader in. Keep in mind that all scenes and chapters must maintain a steady rhythm no matter their length.
Just as sentences need to be meaningful and succinct, character dialogue must be concise and to the point. Limit long monologues. Save them for explanations or significant information. To minimize confusion, separate dialogue by giving each character their own paragraph. Make certain each character’s individual dialogue is consistent. For example, if a character speaks with an accent, that needs to be a part of their dialogue. If a character is a smart-ass, create their dialogue around that point. Along with dialogue it’s important to include emotional movement and dialogue tags that show what a character is doing. This can consist of obvious things such as sadness, elation, fear etc., and/or something as simple as tapping fingers, beads of sweat, yawning, etc. These can serve to eliminate, he said/she said. Remember that not every question raised by a character needs an answer. Let the gap stand and keep readers wondering.
Polish your WIP to the best of your ability. Learn to spot redundant types of sentences. If you find repetitive as ifs in your paragraphs or recurring -ing words, seek alternatives. These can become monotonous. Switch things up to keep readers interested.
Think about hiring a professional editor.