How to Self-Edit Your Novel: Style

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

When you've finished your edits on your plot, and gone through and self-edited your characters, it's time to start looking at the style and structure of your manuscript. I'm going to show you 12 more things to check for as you self-edit your manuscript.

This is part of a series, so make sure you go back and check these first!

How to Self-Edit Your Novel: First Draft

and How to Self-Edit Your Novel: Characters

These editing tips have been gathered from all over the internet in the form of “writing tips”, as well as from knowledge I've gleaned from two books: Stephen King's "On Writing", and "The Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr and E.B. White.

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For how to write your manuscript, I suggest Stephen King's book. He has lots of useful tips and practical advice. He has a great section on editing as well. (Note: There is swearing and adult content in his book.)

For how to properly arrange your paragraphs, sentences, and punctuation, refer to "The Elements of Style". This little book wastes no time with lengthy introduction or opinion but dives straight in as an authority on writing clearly. The book is an excellent tribute to Strunk's maxim: Make every word tell.

As I've said before, I'm not an editor.

Nothing can replace a professional editor. Learning how to self-edit will improve your writing, sharpen your sentences, and help your work stand out in a sea of want-to-be-authors or self-published authors. All the tips I offer have been used in my own self-editing, and I found them very helpful.

1. Chapter Breaks

Make sure you are happy with where your chapters break in the story. This is mostly a matter of preference. Some books like to leave each chapter with a cliff hanger. Some just divide by scene. Not all my chapters are uniform in length, and that doesn't seem to be the case in many other books I read. This is just something for you to check.

2. Paragraph Breaks

You should have a new paragraph for change of idea, scene, or character, at the start of dialogue, and again when a different person starts speaking.

Long paragraphs can be daunting for readers. Make sure that you aren't overloading them with lots of big blocks of text.

3. Sentence Breaks

There are many different ways to write a sentence. I'm not going to list them here, but please do read through your manuscript to make sure you're varying their length and style. Mixing them up adds interest and even a certain musicality. Often, action scenes do best with short, snappy sentences that lend a sense of urgency. Variety is key!

Generally, follow the rules as you format your sentences, but a few one-word sentences or fragments can spice things up—when done for a specific intent. Don't mess up from ignorance, do it on purpose, for a purpose.

Extra Tip: Check Punctuation and Sentence Structure Together

This saves time and considering how both of these edits go hand in hand, it just makes good sense. Find a good book (like The Elements of Style) or a trustworthy online resource. Study up on the rules of punctuation first, then and read your manuscript slowly, checking both punctuation and sentence length at the same time.

4. Passive Sentences

A passive verb is where the action is happening without a clear idea of who is causing it. One common hack that usually works, is that if you can tack “by zombies” at the end of your sentence, it's passive.

Example: The ball was kicked across the room (by zombies).