This series of self-editing tips are only simple editing guidelines. For more advanced revisions, a critique partner can provide perspective on such things as varying sentence structure to improve flow, punching up drama with shorter sentences, logistical or consistency issues, maintaining a character’s voice, etc.
1. Basic show versus tell. Search through your manuscript for areas you can reword to show the reader what’s going on rather than telling them. ‘Telling’ tends to keep the reader at arms length like they’re watching what’s going on through a telescope or through an overhead camera.
It’s a somewhat tricky process, but if you stay inside your character’s head, it helps a lot. Experience what your protag is experiencing in the scene. Add more description: what s/he sees, smells, hears. In this way, you’ll help the reader experience the story through the character’s senses. In doing so, you’ll also help the reader develop an emotional attachment to the characters. They’ll care what happens next, root for him/her.
2. Look out when you describe the action of looking. When describing an action the eyes make, use the word ‘gaze.’ Editors will point out that eyes cannot be physically mobile (i.e., cannot drop or fall or snap, though a gaze can).
3. Cause and effect sentences. Sentences need to relay information about the cause before the effect or result. In other words, write the sentence in the order the events occur. In this way, your readers will experience the scene in a linear way (and you won’t confuse them).
4. Every character’s action or thought starts a new paragraph. An action and line of dialogue by the same person exist in the same paragraph. Do not mix dialogue of one character in the same paragraph as another.
5. Only one POV per scene. Simply put, no head hopping. Readers find it jarring to be inside one character’s thoughts and suddenly find themselves inside the other. Keep it clean.
Dr. Maya Angelou said: "Not everything you create will be a masterpiece, but you get out there and try. Sometimes it happens, the other times you're just stretching your soul." Add self-discipline to that stretch to make it art.
Still more tips on the way!