Tuesday, June 13, 2023

The Three Step Self-Edit

 By Lisa Amstutz

As writers, we spend so much time agonizing over our words that we tend to get attached to

them. It’s hard to look at them critically when it comes time to revise. Here are some tips to help you edit your own fiction or nonfiction picture book in three simple—though not necessarily easy!—steps.

Step 1: The Big Picture
Before you worry about the nitty-gritty, make sure your story works at the “big picture” level. Ask yourself the following questions about your story.

  • Is your story arc strong? Does it flow smoothly and in a logical manner from beginning to end?
  • Does the beginning of your story clearly establish the main character’s problem (if applicable)?
  • Does your main character solve that problem after several failed attempts that build toward the solution?
  • Does the main character’s personality/experience play into the solution somehow?
  • Does your story have a satisfying ending?
  • Does your story have “heart”—an emotional story arc or connection?

Step 2: Scene by Scene
Now let’s zoom in a little closer. Start by breaking your story into spreads. You can do this by making a dummy or by simply leaving an extra space between spreads in your manuscript. You’ll need 12–14 spreads for a traditional 32-page manuscript.

  • Does each spread contain a complete scene, with a character, a setting, and an action or change of some kind?
  • Think about what the art might show on each spread. Is there enough variety to make the book visually interesting?
  • Does the tension build from scene to scene?
  • Finally, look at your transitions. How can you tempt the reader to turn the page?

Step 3: Polish Your Prose
Now that you’ve looked at the big picture and the scene by scene view, it’s time to zoom in even closer and scrutinize each sentence.

  • Scan for adverbs and adjectives. Try to replace them with stronger nouns and verbs if possible (e.g., instead of saying someone walked quickly, say they trotted or jogged).
  • Do you have a lot of "he saids" and "she saids" in your text? Replace some of them with actions instead.
  • Look carefully at each sentence. Are you telling the reader something that will be shown in the art? If so, take it out.
  • Sprinkle in some alliteration, internal rhyme, onomatopoeia, or other literary devices. Try reading the story aloud to see if it sounds satisfying.

Happy revising!

Lisa is an author and literary agent. You can learn more about her at https://www.lisaamstutz.com/  or


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