Last Saturday, we talked about the best way to handle edits once you have:
1. Finished your first draft
2. Taken a 4-6 week break from your manuscript
3. Completed a read through of your book and taken careful notes on things that need attention in your manuscript, including:
- Inconsistencies with story line or character
- Characters who appear and then disappear, never to be heard from again
- Ideas to improve a scene (setting, conflict, emotion, etc.)
- Ways to deepen a character’s goals, dreams, or growth
- A theme that needs further exploration
- Dialogue that needs sharpening
- Lengthy description that needs trimming
- Areas to research
Once you have your notes finished, use the checklist below to go deeper — and further examine specific places and sections in your manuscript. I’ve gathered these prompts from books that I’ve read on editing, other authors’ advice, my own experience, and articles written on the subject.
Using your manuscript, and that same notebook (or your computer), record everything you’ll need to edit according to this checklist (print out your own handy list at the bottom of this post!).
18.5 Ways to Tackle the Dreaded Edits
1) Hook – Does your novel have a great beginning hook? How can this be tweaked to make it more gripping, unusual, or compelling?
2) Journey – Is there a life-changing problem for the protagonist to solve? Is this a journey that your readers will care about and why? If your protagonist doesn’t go on his or her “journey,” what will happen?
3) Setting – Have you described the setting in the opening? Will readers understand when (present day, 1800s, future) and where (location) the book takes place?
In Each Chapter
4) Opening – Does the beginning of each chapter grab the reader’s attention? No tea-drinking, aimless driving, or showers allowed.
5) Purpose – What is each chapter’s purpose? How does the chapter move the book forward? If the chapter doesn’t belong, cut it.
6) What’s at Stake? – Is each chapter compelling? Does it have tension, emotion, and conflict? Will it keep readers turning pages? **Note: The protagonist should not get what he or she is seeking.
7) Description – Are there sensory descriptions in each chapter? What will your character can taste, touch, see, smell, and hear (try to use 2-3 senses per chapter or scene).
8) Ending – Will each chapter ending hook the reader? Will they want to read more? Why?
9) Length – Is each chapter a suitable length? Is it too long or too short?
10) Likable – Is your main character likable, will readers relate to him, and is he somewhat heroic? Also, is your antagonist “human” and not a caricature? Does he or she have at least one likable trait? This makes your villain all the more complex.
11) Consistency – Make sure each character’s physical traits are consistent (age, hair color, eye color, etc.) In addition, are each character’s personalities and actions consistent? If not, why are they different? Is this explained to the reader?
12) Throw Rocks – I love this: “The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.” – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita. So, are you throwing rocks? Do your character’s difficulties mount during the story? Does he or she lose someone important to him or her? Does your character grieve that loss?
13) Character Arc – Does your character grow and change meaningfully during the course of the book?
14) Appropriate – Does the dialogue match each character’s age, background, education, and personality?
15) Tags – Keep dialogue tags simple (use “said”). Leave out adverbs like “angrily,” “happily,” “gratefully,” etc.
16) Show – Does the story SHOW and not TELL? Are you using action verbs instead of passive verbs (“was” or “is”).
17) Backstory – Leave out backstory until after the first third of the novel, longer if possible.
18) Grammar & Spell Check – Complete a spell check. Comb through all of your grammar and punctuation. Check for repetitive words (ex. like, just, was, something, it, really, etc.) Replace any and all clichés. Come up with fresh phrases.
18.5) Powerful Ending – Is the ending of the book satisfying (but not perfect)? Are all of the loose ends and subplots wrapped up? Does it leave a lasting impression? When your reader finishes the last line, what do you want your reader to feel or think about?
Whew! After all of this, you’ll be ready to start your revisions! Good luck!
Do you have any editing tips or tricks you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them!