Writing Advice: Editor’s Checklist


#Sometimes you just need a system. Sometimes a task that seems insurmountable can be made that much easier by having a set of guidelines in front of you. When it comes time to edit a story or novel that you’ve been working on for a long time, you may not know where to begin. Ideally, someone else would be editing your manuscript. It’s best to have someone who has not been involved with the story at all looking for mistakes. But more often than not, we are our own editors. If you’re struggling with the editing process, something like an editor’s checklist might help you out. Recently I found a great post on The Editor’s Blog that offered some helpful guidelines.

In this post, Fiction Editor Beth Hill suggests ways to attack/edit a manuscript. For instance, she says you should “anticipate how changes in one element or scene or plot thread will change elements and scenes and plot threads later in the story.” This is something that could be easily forgotten. In the past, when I’ve edited first drafts of my own, I’ve been so focused on fixing one part of the story that I forget repercussions those changes will have later on in the story. One easy way to keep track of these changes is to use a program that allows you to leave comments in your manuscript’s margins. Insert a comment whenever you make a change that affects the plot. Then you can skim those comments later on to see what needs to change elsewhere. You could even color code your comments according to characters or plotlines.

Most of us are not completely prepared to be editors. We are authors and so aren’t in the editing mindset, especially not when dealing with our own creations. Because of this, you might be helped by this piece of advice from Beth Hill’s article. She says, “Editors are often concerned with the elements of the story that are not yet on the page—they look to see what’s missing.” When you sit down with your manuscript, you may be focused solely on what you’ve put down on the page. You may be concerned with fixing those elements and, in so doing, fail to notice what your story lacks. I would suggest setting the story aside for some time and then doing a full read-through. As you read, make notes about what doesn’t make sense or what needs to be developed more fully. Refer to those notes later to figure out what your story still needs.

At the end of Beth’s post, she has created an actual checklist of questions for you to ask when editing your manuscript. These include questions about the plot of your story, your characters, your setting, your dialogue, and much more. I would suggest checking out the post to get started on editing a project.

Happy writing and happy editing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan


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