Self-Editing? Look for These 5 Common Problems

by | Writing | 6 comments

Editing programs such as ProWritingAid will help you catch these problems. For most of them you can use your word processor‘s Find tool to search for the problems.

Problem 1: A character is going to do an action.


He was going to make retribution.

Better: He would make retribution.


“I’m going to take Cindy to the concert.”

Better: I’ll take Cindy to the concert.


Problem 2: A Character has to do something.


I had to make the trip for my sanity.

Better: I needed to make the trip for my sanity.


“I have to make sure you’re right.”

Better: “I need to make sure you’re right.”

image by PatternPictures

For the next three problems, most of the examples are good sentences. I give alternatives to reduce the number of occurrences of an overused word in a scene. Like the photo, overused words can crowd a scene.



Problem 3: Overuse of thought, think, believe in a scene’s inner thoughts and dialogue. These can pile up in a scene.

Ways to reduce overuse in a scene:

“I thought you knew Elle.”

Alternate: “You’ve never met Elle?”


“I think I should go with you for your safety.”

Alternate: “I should go with you for your safety.” (I think is unnecessary.)


He didn’t believe her.

Alternate: She hadn’t told him the truth.


Problem 4: Overuse of knew and know in a scene’s inner thoughts and dialogue. Like thought words, these can quickly sprinkle a scene. 

Ways to reduce overuse in a scene:

“I thought you knew Charlie.”

Alternate: “You’ve never met Charlie?”


“I know I’ll like your play.”

Alternate: “I’ll like your play.” (I know is unnecessary.)


He knew she’d betray him one day.

Alternate: He’d expected her betrayal.


Problem 5: Overuse of maybe in a scene’s inner thoughts and dialogue.

Ways to reduce overuse in a scene:

“Maybe she was the killer.”

Alternate: “The evidence pointed to her as the killer.”


“Maybe he could take her to dinner.”

Alternate: “He could take her to dinner.” (I maybe is unnecessary.)


Maybe she was right.

Alternate: Was she right? Possibly.

Fix these 5 common problems in a scene’s inner thoughts or dialogue. Click to tweet.

What is another common problem you’ve experienced

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

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  1. Kim Larson

    These are excellent suggestions. Thank you so much! I went through my manuscript and deleted over 30 “going to”s alone.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Congratulations, Kim! I took out several from my manuscript this last week.

  2. Katheryn Maddox Haddad

    My big problem is closing my quotation marks. I haven’t found a solution to it. I tried “*” but it didn’t work.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Hi Katheryn, I do that sometimes too. ProWritingAids tags them for me.

  3. Bonnie L Winters

    Great suggestions Zoe. I’m adding them to my list of things to watch for.
    Some common things I watch for are:
    – The words I use to start each paragraph so I don’t use the same word two or more paragraphs in a row.
    – Also, a writing coach once told me I shouldn’t use my character’s name as much on the page – as long it’s obvious to the readers that it’s the same character, she didn’t have to be named in every paragraph.
    – And definitely the word “that”.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Hi Bonnie, all those are on my list too. Thanks for sharing them.

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