Self-Editing: 7 Tips to Tighten the Story & Cut Costs

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

A fallacy among many emerging writers is that authors only write the books. Then, once finished, agents will fall in LOVE and someone else will do ALL the editing.

*clutches sides laughing.*

Yeah…no. And woodland creatures don’t help with housework. Sorry to break the news. Bummed me out, too.

The hard truth is the onus is on us (writers) to make certain our manuscript is properly edited before sending a query. Remember, agents are actively searching for reasons to STOP reading. Self-editing skills can mean the difference between a sweet deal or a spot in the slush pile.

Even if the story is amazing, agents know editing is time-consuming and costly. This means they’re more likely to wait for another ‘amazing story’ that doesn’t cost as much as a Caribbean cruise to get bookstore ready. They’ll be far more likely to sign an author who possesses solid self-editing skills.

But what was that old saying?

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Applies to agents and to readers.

Self-publishing is a whole new level and new devil. If we’re doing our job, the self-published novel should be at least as good as anything legacy published. This means we bear the burden (and cost) of making sure our manuscript is the best it can be.

Superior editing makes the difference between releasing a novel versus unleashing one. Many emerging writers—once the novel is ‘finished’—make some major errors when it comes to ‘editing.’

Here are a few biggies:

  • The writer actually believes the novel is finished and hits PUBLISH (Ahhhhhhh! NO!);
  • Emerging authors fail to understand proofreading is NOT synonymous with editing. Proofreading is merely one type of editing;
  • New authors don’t research how much good developmental editors/substantive line-editors charge for services.

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

The above guidelines are from the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Since all novels require editing, the more we know how to do ourselves, the lower our costs will be. Trust me. Y’all do not want to pay a developmental editor to turn a 90,000 word mess into something readable (forget publishable).

Feel free to do this, but be ready to cough up a few thousand dollars and part of a kidney.

A more cost-effective option is to understand plot and the mechanics of story so we can repair the flaws ourselves. Sure, a good developmental editor will spot the massive plot holes and guide us how to repair them, but (again) it’s gonna cost us.

A lot.

Additionally, we can pay someone to insert all our proper punctuation and correct poor grammar, OR we can learn how to do this stuff ourselves. Then we’re only paying for a proofreader to catch what we missed or goofed.

Trust me, no matter how good the writer, we ALL miss/goof stuff.

Self-Editing and ‘Cost vs. Value’

As I already mentioned, good editors are NOT cheap. There are also many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing oopses we could’ve easily repaired ourselves?

We’re burning cash and time.

Self-editing can be a real life (and cash) saver.

Yet, correct the problems we’ll be discussing today, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of our novel. This means you will spend less money and get far higher value.

Over my career I have literally edited thousands of works, most of them written by emerging writers. My particular specialty is content and developmental edit. Though I’ll correct punctuation and spelling as I go (because I am OCD and generous) MY job is to make a STORY the best it can possibly be.

Problem is, most of the time I can’t even get to the story because it’s obscured under layers of bleh the writer could have removed in revision.

#1 DIY Adverb Removal

Despite what you might have been told, not ALL adverbs are evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly?

***Wow, glad the author explained how ‘whispering’ works.

Ah, but if a character whispers seductively? The adverb seductively gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t inherent in the verb. Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones.

Either we need to choose a stronger verb, or we’re treating the reader like an idiot.

If a character walks quickly to the train platform, then choose a verb that means ‘to walk quickly’ (stride, jog, hurry) and use that one instead. If a character yells loudly, ditch the loudly. 

We understand how yelling ‘works.’

#2 Cut the Cray-Cray

First and foremost, readers want a STORY. Stories are more than loads of ‘pretty writing’ using thousand-dollar words. Stories are about problems. A character thinks life is fine, then PROBLEM. The character then must struggle, grow, evolve, make choices to eventually SOLVE the problem (win, lose, draw).

Pretty description is optional. Big words are also optional. Alas, if we want to be a writer who uses description then we need to wield with economy.

Few things make me as giddy as a glorious line of description or a new vocabulary word. Many readers (and writers) are like crows.

We see the shinies and tuck them away because they’re THAT cool. The last book I read was The Devil in the White City.

When describing a miserable afternoon in late 19th century Chicago, the author had many options of how to do this. Instead of, ‘The day was humid and stifling,’ Erik Larson wrote, ‘The air hung with the heavy stillness of a tapestry.’ 

There’s nothing, per se, wrong with the first description. But Larson’s line was far more visceral because he made use of multiple senses simultaneously.

But some writers take similes too far.

I’ve seen writers who’ve used so much ‘wordsmithery’ that I had no idea what the hell they were even trying to say. The goal of a novel is to hook readers into a dramatic narrative, not prove we own a thesaurus.

Exhibit A:

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

***Word on the street is the NSA is contemplating either revoking Sean Penn’s permission to own a thesaurus OR they want to weaponize his writing.

Metaphors and similes are fantastic literary devices, but need to be used with intention. Yes, in school, our teachers or professors didn’t ding us for using forty-two metaphors in five pages, but their job was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor or simile, NOT prepare us for commercial publication as professional novelists.

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

When we use too much of this verbal glitter, we can create what’s called ‘purple prose.’ Go through your pages and highlight metaphors and similes.


Any kind of description must serve the story and propel the dramatic action forward. If it doesn’t do this? CUT!

#3 Cut the Stage Direction

Again, the more time an editor devotes to a project the higher the bill. Also, if an editor charges by the page, we could be paying for a lot of filler we could have removed ourselves.

Alfred Hitchcock said, ‘Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.’ Readers don’t need every single step of a day. We live it, why would we read it?

Yet, I see a lot of samples like this:

Fifi opened her eyes at dawn. She pulled back her covers and placed her feet on the floor. Padding across the room, she reached for a robe hanging on her door. Her stomach growled, so she went downstairs and opened the fridge for the carton of orange juice, then grabbed a glass from the cabinet. Turning around, she searched for a granola bar….


An editor is going to cut all of this because NOTHING IS HAPPENING. Also, readers pretty much know how the whole ‘getting juice’ phenomenon works. They don’t need a blow-by-blow.

Fifi reached out her hand to open the door.


Unless Fifi has telekinetic powers, do readers need the direction?

Filler pads the word count, but it also pads the editing bill. The verbs turn, look, grab, pull are possible red flags you’re doing too much stage direction. My advice is to do a Word Find and search for these verbs and their variations (I.e. look, looked, looking). See if the action is necessary or if you’re holding the reader’s brain.

If you’re holding the reader’s brain? Return it, please.

#4 Beware of Painful & Alien Movement of Body Parts

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

His head followed her across the room.


Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow? The carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

#5 Ease Up on the Physiology

Fifi’s head pounded. She ran for the door, her heart hammering and wild pulse beating relentlessly in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs. All she could do was gasp. Panic made her throat clench and stomach heave. Mind numb, she reached for the door, fingers trembling.


After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out. That and I read a lot of samples where the character has her heart pounding so much, I’m waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment.

Physiological reactions can become echoes. If every page the character has her stomach churning, roiling and rolling, our reader will need an antacid before finishing the chapter (provided she finishes at all).

I strongly recommend a copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to help you vary physiology. Also, if someone’s heart is pounding, that’s okay. We just don’t need to be told this over and over and…over.

We (readers) assume the character’s heart is still pounding until she’s out of danger.

No need to remind us.


#6 Odd Sentence Construction

In an effort to break up and vary sentence structure, many emerging writers will craft sentences like this:

With the months of stress pressing down on her head, Jessie started ironing the restaurant tablecloths with a fury.

First, this is backing into the action. Though technically correct (enough), it’s easy to lose a reader if we have too many sentences like this. Active sentences are the easiest on the brain and keep the reader immersed in the fictive dream.

Then there are the picky issues with the example above. For instance, when we use the word ‘down,’ then ‘on’ is redundant.

Also, Jessie is either ironing or not ironing. ‘Started’ is overused and makes sloppy writing (this actually goes back to the whole stage direction thing).

Jessie ironed the restaurant tablecloths with a fury, months of stress pressing on her shoulders.

Another way writers will vary the beginning of sentences is they’ll default to what’s known as passive voice.


The door was kicked in by the police.


Police kicked in the door.

If you go through your pages and see WAS clusters? That’s a HUGE hint that passive voice has infected your story.

Many writers end up with strange sentence construction because they realize every sentence is starting with the character’s name or the appropriate pronoun. They’re trying to ameliorate the repetition of Jessie, Jessie, Jessie, she, she, she. The problem, then, is not sentence construction, rather the writer needs to open the lens of the storytelling.

Remember our character doesn’t need to be the subject of every sentence. We’re telling a story. This means we can work with setting, other characters, etc.

#7 Get Rid of ‘Clever’ Tags

Ideally, if we do a good job with our characters, the reader should know who’s talking without tags because speech patterns differ. If all our characters ‘speak’ the same way, that is an issue we need to remedy.

Yet, we can’t always do this, which means we can use a tag. Tags are fine, but keep it simple. This isn’t the place to get clever.

‘You are such a jerk,’ she laughed.

A character can’t ‘laugh’ something. They can’t ‘spit,’ ‘snarl,’ or ‘grouse’ words either. They can SAY and ever so often they can ASK. Said used properly becomes white noise.

NOTE: Use said as a tag…just don’t get crazy. If you beat it up it gets distracting and annoying.

But again, used properly readers don’t generally see it. It keeps them in the story and cooking along. If we want to add things like laughing, griping, complaining, then fine. It just shouldn’t be the tag.

“You are such a jerk.” She laughed and flicked brownie batter onto Fabio’s white shirt.

Notice how sentences like the one above also keep us from beating said to death.

I swear the funniest instance of bizarre tags was a new writer who just would NOT listen to me and she insisted on using all these crazy@$$ tags. So instead of exclaimed when her character yelled something she tagged with, he ejaculated.

*Editor Kristen falls over laughing*

self-editing, Kristen Lamb, revision, editing, content editing, how to edit a novel, self-publishing, how to revise a novel

Okay y’all ALL sniggered at that one. So yeah be creative just not in the tags, ya dig? 😉

There you go!

SEVEN easy tips for self-editing. We all make these mistakes and that’s why God invented revision (that and to punish the unfaithful). If you can get rid of these common offenders on your own, then good editors can focus on the deeper aspects of your fiction.

Have you had to ruthlessly slay your favorite metaphors? Are you a recovering adverb-addict? What are some other self-editing guidelines you use to keep your prose clean and effective?

I love hearing from you!

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  1. Great reminders! Thanks, Kristen.

      • Amy Donnelly on April 24, 2018 at 2:11 pm
      • Reply

      You plucked the words from my thoughts! Thank you for writing this article.

  2. The pressure you feel is me squishing the screen in a bear hug! I swear you are looking over my shoulder as I clean off my machete, readying for the next slash and burn on the beautiful book I’m editing. Well, it will be beautiful after the jungle is cleared away.

    Multiple narrators, 1st to 3rd, dialogue tags ‘explained’, stage direction accompanied with narrator speculation (explaining the stage direction), lots of characters who ‘proceed to’ do something.

    And the story is just gorgeous, touching, real, heartbreaking and covers several generations…if all the ‘extras’ can be stripped away.

    I love this post — and especially love the ‘save your money!self edit!’ advice. I wince at every edit I encounter where I think: ‘If only they had checked for this, and this, and this. It’s not hard to do…and would have saved them hundreds.’

    Thanks for this – and please, all writers: do even half of these great tips and your bank account will thank you!

  3. What do you mean “woodland creatures don’t help with housework”? And now you’re telling me I have to self-edit? HAHAHAHA

    Seriously though, thanks for the reminder, I said to myself as my eyes flew across my screen before I went to the cupboard and got a glass to pour myself an orange juice. Phew!

    • Glenda Beall on April 24, 2018 at 12:24 am
    • Reply

    I posted a short part of your blog today and listed the link to this blog post.
    I teach writing and I hammer these 7 tips into my students. Very good post. Thank you.

    • Susan Grillo on April 24, 2018 at 12:41 am
    • Reply

    Thanks for this advice. Just finished my novel so this was perfect timing.

    • Ramshah Akbar on April 24, 2018 at 1:03 am
    • Reply

    Nice one, Kristen. Thanks again.

  4. These are excellent points and things I struggle with in my own writing. I’ve nearly finished editing my book (having sent it away for developmental edits last year). I’ve learnt so much about story through this process.
    Incidentally Agatha Christie was one of the first proper grown up authors I read as a child. A couple of weeks ago I found one of the Poirot books. She had some strange tags in her prose including the exact example you use in number 7.

  5. I second your recommendation of The Emotion Thesaurus. Indispensable!

  6. That made me laugh, loud enough to startle the cats. I thought the flying eyes was the funniest thing till I got to ‘he ejaculated’!! That’s going to keep me giggling all day, thank you, Kristen. And that meme with the baby, so adorable!

    Ah yes, the Emotion Thesaurus, I never write/edit without it. I like to think I’ve gotten pretty ruthless with my editing but always on the lookout for as much professional advice as I can find so thank you very much for this post.

  7. Weeellll, on the description, there’s a caveat that almost never gets said. Most writers hear “All description is boring,” so they delete all of that, not realizing they’re setting themselves up for a form rejection.

    Good description is done from the opinions of the characters and the 5 senses. Setting comes into play, too. Description (and setting) means you’re pulling the reader down into the story. And this is very hard skill to learn. Very fun though once you do because it’s playing around with the characters.

  8. I must be the odd one out, Kirsten: that reader who notices too many ‘saids’ and ‘asks’ as dialogue tags, and finds them repetitive.

    I edit work for others, as well as editing most of my own material, leaving a final(ish) edit to my editor (I’m his ‘editor’ too). When I notice too many ‘saids’, I know there must be too many, if that makes sense?

    However, it may be that I’m too critical, because I notice them all the time in published books… and they grate… yet whoever edited those books obviously felt they were OK (I’m not referring to self published books that haven’t been near an editor, or even a proofreader. One can usually tell if a book has been edited.).

    As you suggest, I also use ‘tags that aren’t tags’. – What should we call them?… Do they have a writers’ jargon name? (I hate writers’ jargon ’cos I usually have to go and look it up to see what they’re talking about.)

    Using simple action statements, like ‘Mick sipped at his pint, then continued’, or even drawing the second person into the frame then qualifying who the speaker is, as in ‘Tony nodded, as Lena made her point’, to break a lengthy line of dialogue, immediately reminds the reader who’s speaking because it’s on the same line as the dialogue itself. If it was someone else, then they’d have a new paragraph. Likewise, starting the new paragraph that every new speaker should get with a short, almost insignificant, action like ‘The Sergeant looked up’ before the spoken words begin.

    Follow the maxim of ‘new character – new paragraph’, and things become easier. (It’s a sure sign that no editor has been near the work, when those kinds of rules are broken.)

    Slotting a simple attributed action somewhere, early in the dialogue line, tells the reader who the new line is being spoken by. The phrases ’He said’, or ‘She asked’, become almost redundant, particularly if the character’s individual voice shows through in the choice of words.

    1. No you are not weird. I mentioned that ‘said’ can jump out and be obnoxious too. It means the author failed to do solid character work and good dialogue so has too much tagged. If the author was more confident in the voice of the dialogue you wouldn’t notice because the tags would be fairly rare.

      1. Apologies for getting your name wrong, Kristen… I thought I was just over sensitive to word repetition because I work so hard to avoid it myself, unless it’s deliberate for effect… Sometimes a run of short sentences, all beginning with the same word or words, have a staccato effect that can increase urgency, tension, or drama in a scene.

  9. This is awesome and so helpful right now! It’s like you know I’m in the middle of revisions and edits!! Thanks Kristen!!

    1. I am presently working on editing my new book and found your advice most helpful. Many thanks for putting this post online, it is much appreciated.

  10. I loved this, so many helpful tips – thank you!

  11. You nailed it. I wish every author would read this post and commit it to memory. That would make my job of editing them far easier and less stressful on my hair, which I sometimes pull out in clumps from sheer frustration. 😉

    • Mike Clayton on April 24, 2018 at 8:30 am
    • Reply

    When I wrote my first English novel – and I was just remembering my high school English classes – I couldn’t feel distinction between past continuous and simple past tense. Even worse; for some unknown reason I felt more comfortable with past continuous.
    Now I’m working on that POS to include it in my new series, and I’m shoveling through was singing was standing was talking was looking in EVERY sentence. Speaking of WAS clusters… it’s more like a WAS pudding, with occasional helping of simple past tense here and there.
    It’s painful even to look at, not to mention read it.
    So, yeah… self editing kinda, well, rocks. Yay.
    *shoot me*

    1. “When I wrote my first English novel – “

      I take my hat off to you, Mike… I have enough trouble writing in one language: the only one I speak… English.

      Although I do know, from first hand, the way different languages are often constructed differently, notwithstanding the different metaphors used, which usually don’t translate literally from one tongue to another.

      I’ve edited a couple of books, written in English, by a writer whose first language is Swedish, and it was hard going. Colloquialisms and homophones caused a few problems, as did sentence structure occasionally. (It’s bad enough between British and American English… I can handle the spelling and grammar differences, but when I edited a book written by a retired high school sports coach, it was almost a foreign language entirely.)

      I suppose if you’ve grown up speaking different languages, the idiosyncrasies of each become ingrained, and the mind automatically applies the correct phrases if you’re thinking in a language rather than translating from one to the other.

        • Mike Clayton on April 24, 2018 at 4:08 pm
        • Reply

        I honestly can’t say how my writing sounds to a native English speaker – does it feel ‘foreign’ or not. Maybe Kristen can judge it. She edited one of my beginnings. She still talks to me and we’ll work together again, so she probably didn’t run away screaming.
        Kidding aside, I wrote 1 million words before I decided I was ready to publish in English. (though I think I’ll need 2 million more to finally grasp your damn articles)

        My vocabulary is still small and I think I’ve reached a plateau. I’ll stay on this level for some time, getting comfortable, before I unlock another achievement. 🙂 And reading is a key for that. I was bombarded with English songs, movies and TV shows since my childhood, yet only reading English can help with sentence structure and natural narrative flow.
        That’s not just an ESL thing.I know native English speakers (college education) who don’t know what English words mean. I had a friend who beta-ed for me, and she didn’t know what ‘plain’ meant, though it was clear from the context. I thought she was joking. ‘The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain’ is a classic. Not many people will read “Pygmalion”- and if I recall correctly, that sentence isn’t in the play,only in the movie – but I bet there are many books who use the word plain normally.

        In the end, I re-wrote the entire sentence and used another word, because I had no idea how an ordinary reader would react to the ‘plain’.
        That’s the problem all ESL writers have – we don’t have an insider knowledge. You will know which word to use to make your writing simple and understandable, and you know exactly how it will resonate. We sometimes use weird words and expressions, and no self-editing can help with that.

  12. Thanks again for your insight, Kristen!

    • Paul Martz on April 24, 2018 at 11:57 am
    • Reply

    Great, tips. As a new writer, I have heard “don’t use adverbs”, but your concrete advice really honestly helps.

    I’m an emerging writer. So emerging, in fact, that I haven’t set up a blog yet. Rest assured I’ll share this link from my Facebook “Paul Martz” – Writer page.

  13. Congrats on your debut novel Kristen! Now you’re one of us .. ONE OF US … ONE OF US.

    Your tips on self-editing are good and very timely for me as I’m still doing final editing on my fifth novel. I have an editor and she’s very good and thorough but we work together. I send her my finished draft, she sends me comments and fixes errors, I incorporate her fixes and comments and catch more problems myself. Then we repeat the cycle until I feel ready to click on the “publish” button.

    If you don’t mind I would like to add one more tip to your list — for self publishers.

    All authors seem to leave mistakes in their published work, mistakes even professional editors don’t catch. I see them all the time in the best-selling novels I buy. When I see them in my own published work I cringe because I know some readers will stop reading when the come upon some glaring error in spelling, grammar, diction, or style. If they spot one in the free sample they won’t buy the book.

    So here’s my big tip. I don’t publish on Amazon first — I publish on Amazon second. That’s because you don’t really get a second chance on Amazon. Once you publish there, it’s out to the masses. If there’s lots of errors in it you will lose sales, not only of the current work but of anything you might publish in the future. You will be remembered as an amateur.

    I publish on Smashwords first. I know, I know, Amazon is where all the money is and many authors publish Amazon only to take advantage of the Kindle Unlimited deal. I’ve tried that deal and find it only makes more money the first few months. After that it yields less. On Smashwords I get the best of all deals because Smashwords distributes my books to ALL other retailers EXCEPT Amazon. Also, they don’t prohibit me from publishing on Amazon as well. So I do, just not immediately.

    Smashwords acts as a second line of defense in terms of catching errors. Just today they found an error in my table of contents formatting and sent me an email about it, including a way to fix the error. Smashwords support is superb.

    But the biggest reason I publish on Smashwords first is their small footprint in the book buying world. They don’t push the book to other retailers until I say so and hardly anyone buys their books from Smashwords. Amazon is the beast that eats all other retailers. I download my newly published Smashword version in .epub and .mobi versions and view them on my Nook tablet and on my Kindle for PC app. In the MS Word version, writing in the preferred Times Roman 12 point font with all hidden characters made visible, It can be difficult to catch an extra or missing period. Once I see the book on a tablet those kind of mistakes pop out of the page and scream at me — “IDIOT!”

    Try this. You will like it I promise. You can publish new versions as much as you want on Smashwords while correcting residual mistakes. Once you’ve removed all the warts, upload your perfect MS to Amazon and press “publish.” Now your book is on ALL retail sites worldwide, including the beast (Amazon).

    1. That is fantastic advice! Thanks!

  14. How do you know when to stop? I’m self-editing right now and I’m trying to figure out when to let other people look. I simultaneously feel like I’ll never be ready and that I’ve done all I can do.

    1. Yeah I know the feeling. If you fix these things then my suggestion is look for when I run my 20 page special or take that Hooked class and upgrade. I can tell almost all your bad habits and weaknesses with a very small sample. I can tell you what to work on, or if you’re cool to go hire for a full edit? I will send you on your way. But I like to act as a line of defense because if you’ve got MAJOR structural issues, then I can catch that in 20 pages and help. No sense in paying a few thousand for a good developmental editor to do that unless ur a millionaire and money no object.

    • Jennifer Thompson on April 24, 2018 at 1:30 pm
    • Reply

    You. Are awesome. And so was this post. Such great advice here (as always). Thanks a million. I’m gonna put it to good use because I know I do some of these things occasionally, especially the “eyes” following, etc. No bueno. And can I just say, I love editing–making it better. So satisfying. Thanks again.

  15. Our writing group is putting together a collection of stories and poems for self-publication and seems to have nominated me as editor.
    This may be because I’ve probably spent more time reading tutorials and blogs over the past couple of years than I have actually writing :(. Although I have come across most of these tips in the process, it is easy to lose sight of some when faced with pages of editing. Thanks for putting these together and making them memorable.
    I will forward to the group in the hope they will read, mark, learn and inwardly digest

  16. I gave up “said” for Lent…and have rarely used it since. 🙂

    1. If you do great dialogue you don’t need it. But IF you tag…not the place to get creative 😛 .

  17. This is a very solid list. Some were already familiar to me, but I definitely learned a thing or two. I think your first point is probably my favorite. There are a lot of times where shared knowledge can bridge the gap. “How else are they going to shout?” I did once meet a local actor who demonstrated the “loud whisper” which was an interesting thing, so I imagine shouting quietly could be done, but I haven’t heard it yet.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. You could use ‘whispered loudly’ because ‘loud’ is not inherent in the verb. We all have that friend or family member who has not yet gotten that whispering is supposed to be QUIET. It’s why we see things like, ‘She screamed silently’ and it is fine. We know what that is. It’s an internal AHHHHHHHHH! But again, there is a juxtaposition of opposites, so we aren’t running into a redundancy issue which is a signal to either ditch the adverb altogether or pick a stronger verb.

      1. I’m pleased you clarified this, Kristen. Both ‘loud whisper’ and ‘silent scream’ are effective uses of oxymorons. We all understand the meaning, even though they appear to contradict themselves.

        Using oxymorons for effect needs care, though it’s easier in poetry or nonsense fantasy, but when done well, it can be very effective.

        The jury’s still out though on that most commonly heard oxymoron, ‘Government intelligence’.

  18. Oh my, great advice with so much to think about. Grammarly often tells me I’m using passive voice. I haven’t been able to solve that one yet. Still working on it.

    1. Your verb is in front of what should be your subject. ‘Was’ and ‘were’ are big red flags. For instance, in my example ‘The door was kicked in by the police,’ the door is the direct object (what was kicked in). Who did the kicking? The police. Thus, ‘The police’ needs to be in the position of the subject THEN the verb ‘kicked’ THEN the direct object (what was kicked in) ‘the door.’ Hope that helps. If you’re nailed on passive voice, look for where you placed the subject and rewrite the sentence so it is ahead of the verb and D.O.

      Hope that helps.

      1. Passive voice is very common in law, journalism, and politics where the source may not want to reveal information or refuses to take responsibility or name names. This is why we’re fed a lot of ‘Mistakes were made.’ Sentence makes sense, but WHO made the mistake? Ah, see that is why they use passive voice. No one named regarding WHO made the mistake.

  19. This is fantastic information, Kristen. And entertaining at the same time. I’ve been a long time hater of adverbs, but your explanation of when they can be used is valuable. I’ve shunned them altogether and may not need to chuck them all. Ejaculated! Hahaha! So funny.

  20. Thank you so much. I always enjoy your comments!

  21. Thanks for that, Kristen. This goes in my ‘useful writer’s stuff ‘ folder.

  22. Back in the beginning, when I was first learning the Writing Craft, I bought a book on Self Editing (recommended by Jeff Gerke). I read it and remembered some of it. 😉

    Your Seven points above hit the most important (likeliest goofs) in a very readable manner. It’s one of the best treatments of the subject I’ve seen.

    That’s why you’re one of my Favs.

    Write on sis


  23. Thank you, Kristen – as ever, solid advice grounded in experience. I’m about to embark on a major editing project and I’ve bookmarked this article. Just to make sure I don’t forget ANY of these valuable tips…

  24. I’m a big believer in getting your manuscript copy edited regardless. However, many copy editors offer a clean manuscript discount (5-15% perhaps), so writers might want to keep that in mind. Good self-editing definitely cuts down on unnecessary word count too, making the cost easier to manage.

    Also, if you use an editor, learn from what they tell you! You’ll find out quickly what mistakes you’re prone to making, and then you can edit self-edit those next time, saving yourself and your editor the headache of hearing/saying the same things over and over again.

    Great tips, Kristen!

  25. ‘…not ALL adverbs are evil. REDUNDANT adverbs are evil.’ Such refreshing common sense! Thank you for these excellent tips.

    • Adele Marie Park on June 10, 2018 at 5:39 am
    • Reply

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m in editing hell at the moment, using an online tool which helps a lot but getting lost in the woods a bit. This article helped me find a path.

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