Self-Editing Checklist for Fiction Writers Part II: Micro Issues

Self-Editing Checklist for Fiction Writers Whether you plan to self-publish or try for a traditional publishing contract, your post-writing/prepublication steps begin the same way. In Self-Editing Checklist for Fiction Writers: Macro Issues, we looked at some “big picture” strategies you can use for your first round of revisions and self-edits. In this continuation, we’ll consider the smaller details, the “small-tooth comb” review, that every writer should consider before declaring a manuscript ready for the copyeditor.

As you may recall, addressing a manuscript’s macro issues includes reviewing for global details, like how the characters develop over the course of the story and whether or not the story arc works; micro issues include sentence structure and word choices.

When checking a manuscript for macro issues, here are some points (in no particular order) to consider:

  • Have you used a variety of sentence structures?
  • Have you overused any words, including character names?
  • Do dangling modifiers begin or end sentences?
  • Do your characters have disembodied body parts (such as eyes sliding from side to side)?
  • Are all facts consistent? (Especially important if you’ve changed any character names or attributes)
  • Have you checked spelling, especially with homonyms (coarse and course)?
  • Have you slashed extraneous words and phrases? (For more on this, see Self-Editing: Put Your Book on a Diet)
  • Have you checked for incorrect punctuation (too much, too little, and the wrong kind)?
  • Have you checked for passive writing? (A good place to start is with “to be” verbs.)
  • Do all your sentences make sense? (Nonsensical descriptions are sentences like “John’s mouth curled awkwardly around the uncomfortable situation.”)
  • Do the pronouns and their antecedents always agree?
  • Have you checked for subject/verb agreement?
  • Have you looked for run-on sentences?
  • Have you eliminated “creative” dialogue tags?
  • Have you checked for too many gerunds?

Whew! I’m exhausted just typing that list, so I can imagine how you must feel as you contemplate it! But trust me, if you scour your manuscript for every one of these potential problems, your story will be stronger and your editing costs will be lower than if you leave the hunting to your copyeditor. (I wrote about this in Four Easy Ways Self-Publishing Authors Can Save Money on Professional Editing and How to Save Money on Editing by Preparing Your Manuscript, so check them out and prepare to save, save, save!

if you scour your manuscript, your story will be stronger and your editing costs will be lower. #editingtip #writetip Click To Tweet

Micro edits are a form of line editing: they involve minor changes—but don’t let the word “minor” fool you. Sometimes, changing one word or restructuring a sentence can make all the difference in a paragraph or even in the way a scene plays out.

What other micro issues do you consider when self-editing? If I missed anything you always look for in your own manuscript, please let me know in the comments.

Once you’ve completed all your revisions (macro and micro), your manuscript should be ready for your copyeditor. However, if you still feel some things just aren’t working, consider hiring a professional editor for a manuscript evaluation. For considerably less money than the price of a full copyedit, you’ll receive an assessment of your work and a diagnostic tool that pinpoints specific strengths as well as weaknesses you can fix to improve your manuscript.

I’ll cover each checklist item in future blog posts, so if you enjoyed reading this and want to improve your self-editing and revision processes, please subscribe by entering your email address on the right side of this page. And please know that I’ll never sell, share, or rent your contact information—that’s a promise!

And if you want more great writing and publishing information, check out my Facebook page at Change It Up Editing and Writing Services, where I share all kinds of interesting articles and links.


Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be.

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13 thoughts on “Self-Editing Checklist for Fiction Writers Part II: Micro Issues”

  1. Thanks for another great check list, Candace. I’ve printed the list for future reference. It looks as though I’ll have to make a “Candace” notebook to stay organized. 🙂 Have a great weekend!

    1. Thanks for adding that one, JC, and I’d also include words that should be capitalized but are not. This is a common conundrum for writers when faced with “Mom” and “mom” and related familial names.

  2. Dangling modifiers are really hard to catch in one’s own writing, because the error is often invisible to the writer but comically obvious to everyone else.

    I’m sure we’ve discusses this before, but I agree. “Creative” dialog tags make a writer seem amateurish. All one has to do is read a fiction by a respected author to see that they are not used by respected authors.

    1. Almost everything on the list is someone’s Achilles heel. Confession time: In writing the post, I used “coarse” when I meant “course” and MY editor caught it–thank goodness! Mistakes happen, but the more we’re aware of our own issues (like those creative dialogue tags), the stronger our writing becomes.

      I do love a good dangling modifier, though, I’m not gonna lie. Makes my job so much more fun!

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