So far in my series about how to revise and edit your book, we’ve covered character arcs, pacing, and amplifying the strengths of your story. All three of these things can sometimes lead to big rewrites, though they don’t always.

Now, we’re starting to get down to a more detailed level. This editing pass is all about making sure your characters stay in character in every scene.


From a 7 Part Series: How to Edit a Novel, Part Four #how to revise a book #editing step by step


Write down a few descriptors about how each main character talks and behaves. For example, here’s how I would describe the speech and behavior of the main characters of my upcoming book:


blurts things out — sometimes puts her foot in her mouth

curses when angry; coarse language in general

often sarcastic

high energy; can have a hard time sitting still

says “holy smokes”

hugs herself when upset or scared




rarely sarcastic; makes jokes only occasionally

rarely curses, and mostly in Latin

has urge to kick, smash things when angry (mostly keeps it in check)

rubs shoulder when uncomfortable


These are two very different personalities, and I don’t want them sounding or acting the same. With the gestures or body language, I’m not going to overdo it. They’ll just come up a few times over the course of the story, keeping the characters consistent.




Once you’ve done a little thinking about the way your character talks and moves, you can take a pass through your manuscript for each character, honing in on their dialogue and behavior. Look for places where they’re speaking too casually or too formally for their personality, revealing too much when they tend to bottle things up, or using long sentences when they usually express themselves succinctly.

As a side note: some people will tell you that women have to use more qualifiers in their speech, (“I don’t know, but…” “Just a thought, but…”) that men can’t express their feelings directly or use long and complex sentences, and so on. There are some general differences in the way an average woman and an average man expresses herself or himself. But then again… your characters may not be average! So you can consider the way that men and women tend to express themselves differently, but also take them with a big grain of salt.

When you finish up with this pass, your characters are going to seem more real and genuine. Even more than before, your readers are going to feel like they are personal friends (or personal enemies, if one of them is a villain.)

Later on, I’m going to talk a little more about framing up dialogue, but it’s important to get that dialogue right first!

Thanks so much for reading, and if you have comments or advice, feel free to share below!