When you start writing, you begin with an outline. When you start editing, you begin with a checklist.
Writers are often warned about the many mistakes they can and will make in their first drafts, but what about the mistakes they can make editing? During this stage, you can miss errors or introduce entirely new ones. You won’t catch all your mistakes in one pass and you shouldn’t try. Like painting a wall, editing requires several layers.
Layers. You know, like an onion–or ogres. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it, they both have layers. The editing process is less overwhelming when broken into layers or steps. As a former copy editor, I was taught to make three passes. The first pass was for content and structure alone (except for any glaring, obvious punctuation), saving the final two passes for grammar and punctuation.
There are several types of editing. I’ve broken it down into two.
Substantive: Also called content editing or developmental editing. This is where you edit your manuscript for organization, content, and presentation to tighten and polish the writing. This includes reorganizing and restructuring so that everything fits into the big picture.
Mechanical: This is where you edit for accuracy, consistency, and conformity to style, grammar, and punctuation.
With so much to look for, how can you be sure you leave no stones unturned? This is where creating an editing checklist comes into play.
First Stage: Readability and Content
The biggest mistake I think self-editors make is trying to fix everything at once, especially grammar. This is the LAST thing you should tackle, because you will waste so much time fixing the punctuation of a sentence only to change it or even cut it later. You don’t sew the buttons on a shirt before you’ve attached the sleeves. Think of your commas as buttons, and put them in last
If you think about it, we’re going to scrutinize your manuscript as you would admire a painting. Start with the big picture and then look for the minute details.
What to Look For
- structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement
- call to action/adventure
- scenes in a cohesive order
- themes support the plot
- test, allies, enemies
- plot holes
- do subplots aid or detract from main plot
- sentence variety
- clear, concise words
- remove vague or overused words
- replace passive voice for active voice
- Remove unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs
- remove redundant words, sentences, scenes, characters
- link beginnings of chapters to the ends of preceding chapters. likewise, link the end of the book to the beginning.
- main conflict
- are there too many, not enough
- is each conflict worse than the one before
- are the POV’s distinct?
- is each scene told in the right POV?
- too many?
- consistency of physical appearance, personality, attributes
- name spelled consistently
- too many/not enough side characters
- side characters enhance or distract from main protagonist
- natural or contrived?
Second Stage: Mechanics and Grammar
After your first pass, you’re probably pretty tired–but you’re not done. To be honest, the first stage of editing might take two or more passes. Now that your ducks are in a row, it’s time for everyone’s favorite editing stage: grammar and punctuation.
What to Look For
- Capital letters
- first word in the sentence
- proper nouns
- names of places, characters, things
- check commonly confused words it’s/its, effect/affect, etc
- semi colons
- Sentence fragments
- Subject verb agreement
- Verb tense
The editing checklist might seem longer than your manuscript, but think of it as your polishing guide. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Beta readers can help spot plot holes and other content issues. Likewise, you can relieve the burden of editing altogether with an editor, though I highly recommend going through once yourself to remove obvious errors. This will save your editor time, which will save you money.
How many of you use an editing checklist? Did you find this helpful?
While I’m editing my sister’s manuscript, most of my Tuesday Tips will be about editing. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be working my way down the list to discuss each part in more detail. Join me next week when I discuss plot.