12 Tips to Edit a Story Draft into an Enjoyable Read

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

I’m close to finishing a first draft. I’ve avoided editing, except fixes that made the plot work. I’ll edit the draft using the following tips.

Editing Tips

Tip 1 Writing to a word count can help with overwriting. In writing blog posts, my word-count goal is 500 words. It’s amazing how much better the post is when I hunt down wordy or unnecessary phrases and stick close to my goal. Same for a novel.

Tip 2 Don’t allow backstory in the first chapter. Do know your protagonist’s backstory. Do feed what’s necessary into other chapters. Do use backstory in how your character acts and reacts.

Tip 3 Get rid of repetition and explaining. Sometimes repetition comes in a different form but says the same thing. He shoveled in food, bite after bite. Explaining suggests readers aren’t smart enough to get it. He shoveled in food. He was hungry.

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Tip 4 Kill your darlings. You have a paragraph you think is clever. If you’re unsure it’s funny, something the character would say, or whether it’s melodramatic, cut your darling.

Tip 5  “Overwriting is a natural result of our own effort to figure out what’s happening in any given scene. Only after we have discovered the core truth can we know what truly belongs and what doesn’t, based on a clearer knowledge of what we’re trying to say and what the scene requires.” “The Too Long and Short of It” by David Corbett (Writer’s Digest September 2019)

Tip 6 Similar to Tip 5 but for the entire book. Understand your character’s past wounds, struggles, and values so you know how he’d react to events, people, and dialogue. Understand what you’re trying to say in your novel. With this knowledge, write a one-sentence theme for your story. Let this guide you so you don’t ramble.

Tip 7 Make sure every scene has purpose to the plot, characterization or the character’s growth arc. Otherwise, cut or change it.

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Tip 8 If you describe many body-part movements in a character’s actions, look for a single word. He tightened his fingers on the ball, pulled his arm back, and then threw the ball. Instead, He pitched the ball.

Tip 9 For all genres, add suspense to your scenes, i.e. create and hold back information the reader wants to know. End chapters with a hook or “cliff hanger” to draw readers to the next chapter.

Tip 10 Don’t explain dialogue. Dialogue itself should do the work. Write dialogue that‘s: necessary, unique to the character speaking, shows his emotion, and interesting. 

Tip 11 Don’t over describe characters or settings. Allow the reader to visualize with a few key “traits.”

Tip 12 Make sure your ending is satisfying to the reader. Wrap up all the subplots, except maybe one for the next book in a series. Don’t rush the ending. Make sure it’s plausible. Include a surprise or a reward the character receives, such as an understanding or something that relates to an item in the story. 

What in a novel do you dislike reading or skip over? 

Buy Link

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/

5 Tips for Including Humor in Your Story

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You want to write humor into your story, but it’s funny only in your head. Keep trying, because all genres benefit from some humor.

Sometimes humor isn’t well done and poor reviews are valid. But other times, the problem is some readers don’t have funny bones. Ignore their reviews. However, we must continue to hone our humor. I’ll share what I’ve observed.

Humor: What Works and What Drags

1. Every moment doesn’t have to be funny. While reading my favorite humorous author aloud to my husband, I noticed the funny character was beginning to repeat the same types of humorous actions, dialogue, and internal thoughts. I no longer found them as funny as I did at first. I stopped experiencing the element of surprise. Her techniques are good, but she overused them in the first half of the book to the harm of the second half.

2. Forced humor never works well. If the humor is too much like slapstick, fewer readers will like it. If you’re determined to make a situation funny, it probably won’t be.

3. Try subtle humor. Subtle humor goes a long way for many readers. For example, take an introverted hero overburdened with responsibilities. Use small actions that he does while alone that produce smiles and are endearing. He’s determined to meet his obligations. What he says and does in public aren’t strange to him but are to the heroine and others. Then occasionally, he unwittingly becomes the straight man for a family member to exhibit her dry humor.

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4. Keep humorous activities original with all the elements of a serious scene. The humorous scenes should have conflict and engaging dialogue. For example, in my novel, Gift of the Magpie, Amanda’s fingers and toes become almost frostbitten while she and Cam build an igloo. He makes her come to his house where he searches the Internet on his phone for how to thaw appendages. To Amanda’s chagrin, the exercises require large leg-swinging and arm-revolving exercises to force blood to her fingers and toes. She demands to see his phone to make sure he’s not having her perform unnecessary, embarrassing motions. Her running commentary on the exercises not working and her preference to put her frozen feet and hands on Cam’s bare back and sides flips the situation to Cam’s discomfort and his voiced opinions.

5. Banter must be lively but not inane. Go for clever remarks and zingers. Don’t do this:

Brad pinched Gilda’s arm. “Behave.

“Ouch, that hurts.” She rubbed her arm.

“I meant it to.”

“Maybe I’ll pinch you.”

“Better not.”

Here’s banter from my Book Calculated Risk, after Cisney has shown actuary Nick how far up the tub of popcorn he should stop eating and give the bucket to her. We start with Nick’s comment.

“The movie hasn’t started yet, you don’t have to whisper.”

“In movies, my family never talked above a whisper, if at all, or Daddy wouldn’t bring us again for a long time.” Her beautiful eyes widened. “You don’t talk during the movie, do you?”

“No.” He held up the popcorn container, glad they agreed on one thing. “You do know the bucket is somewhat cone-shaped and half the popcorn is about here.” He moved his finger up the bucket from where she’d drawn her line.

“Shame on you, Risk Man. You didn’t take into consideration that they were chintzy on popcorn. The kernels reach a half-inch short of the top. And you didn’t take into account that I’m smaller than you and don’t eat as much.”

He chuckled. Risk Man?

She put her finger to her puckered lips. “Shh.”

Humor in novels – what works and what drags. Click to tweet.

What tip can you add in writing humor?

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

How Can Readers Know Information Unless I Tell Them?

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When information and explanations


slow the story’s pace, or

bore or frustrate readers

writers need to hear, “Much information and explanations

aren’t necessary,

shouldn’t be told through author intrusion,

can be fed in a little at a time,

can be given without head hopping, and

should be shown through actions and dialogue.

Here’s an example.

Information and Explanation Overkill

“How are you today, Todd?” CNA Cassie, her title meaning Certified Nursing Assistant, said to nursing home resident, Todd, a thirty-year-old man who’d been in Serenity Nursing Home since his car accident a month ago.

“No worse than yesterday.” Todd hoped Cassie would deliver his breakfast and leave. He didn’t feel like talking.

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Todd was missing one leg below the knee and the opposite hand. After he’d seen his girlfriend enter a restaurant with his business rival, he’d texted her while driving. The rescue squad had to cut him out of his wrecked car.

Todd’s therapist would arrive soon. Danny had become his friend and watched TV with him after his shift.

CNA Cassie set his tray on his roll table, the kind all nursing home rooms had. “Todd, you need to eat more.” She’d checked with the nurse and learned he’d lost ten pounds because he ate less.

She was drawn to Todd and had enjoyed bantering with him until he’d stopped about a week ago. She’d thought he liked her more than a CNA or a friend.

She removed his comb from his bedside table drawer, but when she tried to comb his hair Todd stopped her with the arm that still had a hand.

Why’d Cassie always have to do things for him? She knew he could comb his hair with his right hand.

Cassie, downcast, but wanting to show she didn’t care he’d pushed her away, grabbed his laundry bag and left the room.

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  • Choose only Cassie’s point of view because the scene’s main purpose is to show Cassie’s feelings for Todd.
  • Save how Todd lost his limbs for a later scene to add suspense and boost a sagging story middle.
  • See below. I’ve deleted unnecessary information and explanations and worked other information into Cassie’s thoughts and dialogue to get the story moving.

Improved Scene

Certified Nursing Assistant Cassie carried a breakfast tray into Carl’s room and smiled. “How are you today, Carl?”

“No worse than yesterday,” Carl mumbled.

Cassie rolled her eyes. Every day for the last week, he’d been grumpier than the day before. If only Carl understood missing a hand and a leg below the knee didn’t make him a freak.

He thumbed the bed control device and raised himself to a sitting position. His arm stub nudged the TV remote aside on the roll table.

Cassie set the tray in front of him and opened his milk carton. “Your therapist is scheduled for ten.”

“Don’t you think I know that? Danny’s the only one I can stand around here.”

Cassie forced her smile to remain as she unsheathed his straw. “Try to eat more this morning.” She inserted the straw into the carton. “You need to gain your weight back.”

Carl grunted.

Why wouldn’t he look at her? In the first weeks, their banter had been fun. For a good-looking guy of thirty, he could have an enjoyable life. When Serenity Nursing Home released him, she’d gladly date him.

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“During my afternoon break, would you like me to wheel you around the garden?”

He stabbed a sausage link. “No.”

“I thought you enjoyed the walks. Would you go if someone else took you outside?”

He met her gaze as he bit off the end of the sausage. “It’s not you. I just prefer my own company.”

Her heartbeats fluttered. She wasn’t his problem. Maybe with time …

She glanced at his unruly dark curls. How she’d love to touch them. She removed his comb from the bedside table. “Let’s make you presentable for your own company.”

He pointed the fork at her. “Don’t. I can comb my own hair.” He directed the fork toward the door. “Just go.”

A knot formed in Cassie’s throat. No way would she let him see he’d hurt her. She grabbed his laundry bag and left.

How to handle explanations and relay information in your story. Click to tweet.

Look at one of your scenes. How did you relay information?

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