Introduction to Self-editing Fiction

Eleanor Evans

When writing fiction, countless hours are put into characters, scenes and a storyline and it would be surprising if an author did not become completely immersed in their work. As a result, it is normal for writers to fail to notice even the most obvious flaws in their writing.

As you have found this article, you have most likely already finished a piece of fiction writing. You should therefore look at the following advice with an aim of reviewing and self-editing your work. However, if you are in the process of writing, or simply contemplating about starting a piece of fiction, the following tips will still be useful for you to keep in mind as you write.

Plot and structure

As a basic rule, your story should have a strong beginning, middle and end with each chapter clearly moving the plotline forwards. The start of your novel should place the reader directly within the action and leave them eager to continue reading. Similarly, the pace of the book should keep the reader interested with a balance of dialogue and description, cliffhangers, and a build of tension. The ending of your novel is equally important and should be poignant, leaving the reader moved but also satisfied, with all of their questions being answered.


Characters are crucial to maintaining the interest of your reader, yet new writers often struggle to balance character development. Small characters with no real part in the plot are regularly examined in too much detail, being given a name and a background when it is not needed. Conversely, new writers regularly fall short on developing a main character. Whether through a physical description, through their dialogue and actions, or through flashback scenes, the reader should be able to picture key characters in their minds, what they look like, their mannerisms, and have some knowledge on the character’s background.

Narrative Voice and Point of View

The narrative voice of your novel is something that will primarily attract your reader, so make sure that it is strong and consistent, with a clear distinction against the character’s voice. Similarly, whether you are writing in the first or third person, the point of view must also remain consistent. If there is a change in point of view through your novel, make sure that this is marked with a new chapter or an asterisk.

Showing and Telling

Report-style writing is extremely common amongst new writers. Instead of telling the reader how a character is feeling e.g. “He was disappointed”, show it through their actions, what they say, or their face expressions. It may be worthwhile to go through your manuscript and spot all of the generic adjectives and adverbs that you have used, either exchanging them for a detailed description or for a more appropriate word choice e.g. “He stormed off”, rather than “He walked off sulkily”.


Dialogue within a piece of fiction is important, often being an extremely effective method of showing certain personality traits of a character, or filling the reader in on some background information. However, dialogue must always contribute something to the story so try to avoid unnecessary greetings or small talk.

With these tips, you should have a clear indication of where you are in the process of writing your novel, perhaps you require a little more time to review your writing and work on these points. However, it is important to note that although the guidelines above are referring to the most common flaws found in unpublished fiction manuscripts, there are many other aspects of writing that an author should reassess.

This blog should help self-editors along the way.

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