Story Development and Execution Part 12: Micro-Level Self-Editing

Ciao, SEers. Today is part twelve of the series, and we’re finishing up the self-editing modules. We’ve reached micro-level revision. By now, you should have corrected most of the issues in your manuscript. It’s time to read it again (yes, again) and look for problems with words and punctuation.

Do you notice any wrong words in your manuscript? Words like “definitely” and “defiantly” are often mistaken for each other. Or the wrong version of to/too/two or their/there/they’re can slip in. Apostrophes often show up where they don’t belong. And sometimes there’s a word that’s close to your intended meaning, but a different word has a stronger connotation.

Did you delete extraneous words? Often “that” can be deleted. Many sentence beginnings, especially in dialogue, can be eliminated (so, okay, well, etc.). Are you using three common words to describe something when one multisyllabic word would be more appropriate?

Take a close look at pronouns. Are you using them more often than names? (Names stand out and are seldom spoken in real life. Pronouns fade into the background.) When you use a pronoun, is the reference noun (antecedent) clear?

Have you eliminated word echoes? Common words can occur more frequently than special words and phrases, but they can also be overdone. Using “she” five times in one page isn’t necessarily bad. Five times in a paragraph is noticeable. Rare words and phrases stick out even a page apart, maybe more. If you come up with something unique, you probably shouldn’t repeat it for chapters, if at all.

Did you notice crutch words or phrases? A crutch goes beyond word echoes. These are words that pop up again and again, almost like fillers. Characters sighing or laughing constantly. Someone always starting a speech with “So…” Unless the repetition is a character-defining trait, get rid of it.

Did you scan for adverbs? An occasional adverb is fine. Relying on them when stronger words are better isn’t. (Don’t say a character spoke quietly when you can say he whispered.)

Did you eliminate typos? Extra spaces are very hard to see if they occur at the end of a line. Change your font size or do a “find” for them. Are all of your quotes (single and double) facing the correct way? Remember, a single quote in front of a word when you eliminate letters (like changing them to ’em) requires a close quote, not an open quote. You’ll need to type two in a row (‘’) then delete the first one in order to get the correct punctuation.

Speaking of punctuation, did you eliminate parentheses and semicolons wherever possible? These slow readers down. While some people insist on using them, they’re more commonly eliminated or saved for literary fiction. Parenthetical phrases can be set off with em dashes. Two independent clauses separated by a semicolon can be turned into two sentences or, in many cases, separated by a comma. Are you using em dashes, en dashes, and hyphens appropriately? (Hyphens join words, en dashes show ranges, em dashes indicate a list or definition follows, or they set off aside comments.) Did you eliminate as many exclamation points as possible?

Finally, did you run spellcheck? Did you confirm all the names of your characters and places are spelled the same throughout?

To summarize, work on:

  • Wrong Words
  • Deleteables
  • Pronouns
  • Echoes
  • Crutches
  • Adverbs
  • Typos
  • Punctuation
  • Spelling

These were the micro-level issues to address in your story. Once all three self-edits are complete, you’re ready for a beta read, critique, or professional edit. Some authors use all of these, some use two, some only use one. But you’ll never catch all the errors on your own. You need to let someone else read your work, then you’ll want to go over your manuscript again. (No one said this was fast or easy!)

There’s only one post left in this series: planning for or converting to a series. It won’t be my next post, though. There will be a break for a special post. Meanwhile, I’d love to know more about your micro-level editing process. Please leave a comment below. Grazie!

Links to the Whole Series:

January 7: Idea Generation
February 2: Story Bible
February 28: Character
March 25: Dialogue
April 20: Plot
May 16: Constructing Chapters
June 10: Pacing/Tension/Suspense
July 6: Writing Suspense
August 1: Writing Action
August 26: Macro-Level Self-Editing
September 21: Mid-Level Self-Editing
October 17: Micro-Level Self-Editing
December 7: Planning a Series

Note: Links will only work on and after the date the post goes live.

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56 thoughts on “Story Development and Execution Part 12: Micro-Level Self-Editing

  1. Pingback: This Week at Story Empire – Joan Hall

  2. Great advice, Staci. For me, the word that is my issue. I add it often and have to go back to eliminate it. And still, my beta readers and final edit eliminate more. I find when I am doing an edit for others or beta reads, Word echos and starting sentences with the same word consecutively are problems that novice writers often experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The most tedious of the editing. I didn’t realize it had a name but how fitting. This is probably where I find the most errors, especially with echoes and crutches. Gosh, you guys teach me SO MUCH!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t know if this is an industry term. I just know I do three levels of revisions (macro, mid-level, and micro) and have used these terms to describe what I do at each level. It is, indeed, tedious. But necessary. So glad you found the post useful, Mar.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My critique group are great, but every time they go through one of my final drafts they find far too many mistakes! The interesting thing is that each of them found something that the others missed. As others have said, this is a really useful checklist! Many thanks, Staci! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have a long list of words that I search, Staci, in order to address these micro-editing details. It’s tedious as all heck because, by the time I’m done, I’ve scanned thousands of words. It makes a huge difference though and is worth the headache. Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post on editing, Staci 🙂 This is the tough one for me. Makes my head hurt but I do find many of these mistakes. I have gotten rid of the word “very” and “so” too many times to count. No matter how many go through I do, I always miss something.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m the same way, Denise. That’s why I always give my drafts to someone to edit after I think it’s clean. And I edit for a living! We can find a lot if we look for it, but we’ll never find everything. We have a sort of blindness with our own work. (I do understand the headache, believe me.) Thanks, Denise.


  7. I finished a short story edit yesterday, and I can’t believe how many mistakes and repeated words I found. (I’m sure my critique partners will find even more.) I also found use of “there” for “their” and other similar words. And I seem to have a new crutch word or phrase with every new writing project.

    Great tips, Staci!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Another wonderful post on editing, Staci. While it is my least favorite part of writing, it is a necessary evil. I’ve never quite grasped the difference between an en dash and em dash, so thanks for clearing that up. This has been such an enlightening series. I’ve learned something from each one. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That drove me nuts about double quotes after em dashes. I finally created a shortcut key for those. I would have done so for the single quotes, but I don’t need them often and switched to Scrivener before it became necessary. But it is truly annoying. Thanks, Craig.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 12: Micro-Level Self-Editing | Legends of Windemere

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