Self-Editing Checklist for Fiction Writers Part I: Macro Issues
- Pat yourself on the back for completing your manuscript, and then put it away for a few weeks.
- Once you’re ready to begin self editing, review your outline (if you have one) to refresh your memory about your original plans; this step will help you remember, for example, that the character who was originally named “Mary” was later changed to “Marie,” so you can do a search to be sure they were all changed. It will also help you if (when!) you begin moving chapters around.
- Run a spell-checker and grammar checker. Be careful, though—don’t automatically assume the computer software will catch all your mistakes. Here’s a fun example of correctly spelled words that prove the point:
I have a spelling chequer,
It came with my pea sea,
It plainly marks four my revue,
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Now it’s time to begin going through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. For most writers, moving from macro to micro works best, but if you’re easily distracted by minutia, you might want to reverse the process.
I’ll cover micro issues in another post. Macro issues include big-picture concepts, like how the characters develop over the course of the story and whether or not the story arc works; micro issues include sentence structure and word choices.
When checking a manuscript for macro issues, here are some points to consider:
- Characters: Are all your characters necessary to your story? Once you determine that they are, ask yourself if they are believable characters with unique personalities. Do their thoughts, actions, and dialogue help move your story forward, or can some be eliminated or combined? Do your characters’ relationships grow and change as the story progresses? Can your readers identify the characters’ motivations?
- Whose problem is it? As The Palace of Awesome Stories writes, “Make sure that your protagonist remains the chief actor in the story and doesn’t become solely the reactor to another character’s influence. Sometimes, in longer pieces, characters other than your lead can nab your attention and your imagination; this can be especially true of villains and comic sidekicks. Be careful that these characters don’t become so charming that they threaten to steal the book from your hero or heroine.”
- World Creation: If you’ve created a fictional world, are your characters’ actions and motivations consistent within that world?
- Point of View: Does your chosen point of view work? Would your story be more compelling if written in a different POV? Have you switched point of view within a scene?
- Flashbacks: If you’ve included flashbacks, are they appropriate for conveying the information? Is there a better way to share the same information with the reader?
- Conflict: No matter how beautifully written the prose, readers will start snoring if there isn’t enough conflict to keep their attention.
- Pacing: Does your story move at the right pace? In other words, are some chapters action-packed while others are filled with description and little or no action?
- Plot: Be alert for plot holes. Keep track of your plots and subplots. And above all, give the reader a reason to care about the protagonist’s journey. Every scene should in some way relate to your plot.
- Information: Be aware of information dumps. If a scene doesn’t advance your story in some way, consider deleting it. Spread out background information to educate and entertain at the same time.
- Where does the story really begin? Again, from The Palace of Awesome Stories: “Reread the first two to three pages of your story carefully. Where does the action start? A major fault with many first drafts [. . .] is too much background material at the beginning, before the conflict is introduced and the characters finally take over the story.”
What other macro issues do you consider when self-editing?
Macro edits are revisions: they involve major changes in the way the story is told. Once you’ve completed these revisions, and you can’t find additional ways to improve the manuscript yet you still feel something isn’t working, consider hiring a professional editor for a manuscript evaluation. For considerably less money than the price of a full copyedit, you’ll receive an assessment of your work and a diagnostic tool that pinpoints specific strengths as well as weaknesses you can fix to improve your manuscript.
Happy Writing and Editing!
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Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be.
How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps from First Draft to Publication (helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com)
JunkfoodMoney’s Editing Recipe (junkfoodmonkey.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk)
Revision Checklist (blog.nathanbransford.com)