The Epic Editorial Hit-List (List Edition)

This is a post I promised long ago and never delivered. Even though the novel in question is still not finished – it’s the one I’m rewriting the beginning of right now – the list is as complete as it’s going to get. I’ve been through it on a different novel in the meantime; it’s both comprehensive and actionable.

Here it is, then, my epic editorial list. These are all the dimensions that I am examining as I edit one of my rough drafts. I’ve separated it into what I consider the different layers of editing.

Macro Level Editorializing


Does every scene advance the story or character development?

Is every scene from the best point of view for that development?

Does every scene begin and end where it should?

Are all the threads that weave together by the end introduced early enough to seed the idea and in the proper succession?

Are the characterizations consistent (or believably shifting from one point to another)? Do the characters come across to readers the way they really are (basically, do the thoughts/behaviors/actions the reader SEES add up to the person I know the character to be)?

**This is also where I would consider whether and how to address complaints/critiques from beta readers

General revisions passes (to make up for the fact that I write characters even deeper in their own heads than I am)

Physical grounding – make sure the scene and world are at least referenced, and preferably described at least impressionistically.

Add in sexual tension/physical awareness between them.

Review the dialogue – does it sound natural? Is there any difference between their “voices”? Add in slang from the era where appropriate.

Don’t belabor the point – I overexplain thought processes; minimize it. I like to add a cute little summary after I say something perfectly adequately; delete them.

How does the character think about the world? AKA the INTJ test.

Finally look up any research details I left until the end (which roads might have been taken, for example, or the specific steps of a dance).

Sentence Level Editing

Line edit – AKA, where I make it good

Tightening – can I say it with fewer words?

Clarity – do the words say what I intend them to say? Do they say it in a way that readers can instantly comprehend? Are there too many complex words in a string?

Punch – is the idea presented in the way that is most impactful? Does each sentence have the correct subject or would rearranging the concept order create a stronger reaction?

Sentence structure comparison – have I used too many of the same type of sentence (simple, compound, complex, compound-complex, fragment, or just short/long) too close together?

Long sentence/semi-colon analysis – Do all those ideas really belong in that one long sentence, or would punch and/or clarity be served by splitting them up?

Was the passive voice used? Only save it if it was intentional

Ensure all parallel constructions are, in fact, parallelisms

Do I really need that that? – I pretty much want to use one any time I can. Only about half are necessary.

Do I really need that adverb? – most of the time I either need to change the verb, or let the verb say what it needs to say. But sometimes adverbs are either necessary information or a part of the character’s internal voice.

Oops, that’s a cliché/inappropriate colloquialism!

Copyedit – AKA, where I make it right

The hunt for typos: missing words, homonyms*, words that do not mean what you think they mean

*the usual suspects get special scrutiny: its/it’s, there/their/they’re, vise/vice, two/to/too, four/fore/for, etc., etc.

Antecedent check – pronouns refer to whom I intend them to? No ideas starting with an unexplained “it”?

Dangling modifiers check – are all leading modifiers followed by the noun I intend them to modify?

Identify echoes – where a certain word or phrase is used too closely to itself and creates an unintended callback, or where two characters think about the same thing/use the same logic

Settle on a word, in all the places I put brackets around an idea because I couldn’t figure out the exact word for what I wanted to say

Name spelling consistency for all characters, places, and other proper nouns – make sure it’s always Sebastian, not Sebastian on page 2 and Sebastion on page 122

Consistency across details such as physical descriptions, the timeline of events (you can’t go to church and then declare the next day to be Tuesday), and the blocking/prop action within a scene (make sure no one takes off a shirt twice)

Capitalizing consistency (Season vs. season, Society vs. society, etc.)

Italicizing consistency (ton or ton, modiste or modiste, etc.)

Apostrophe consistency (St. James’ vs. St. James’s, etc.)

Tense and mood agreements; subject verb agreements

Pick a number style and apply it consistently! – whether it’s using numerals for anything more than one digit, or for numbers that would be more than three words to write out

No comma splices (run-on sentences where a comma is being used to connect two sentences instead of either a comma and conjunction or a semi-colon)

Confirm all semi-colons are either joining two sentences in lieu of a comma/conjunction or separating complex items in a list

Make sure there is a comma before all conjunctions forming a compound sentence

Oxford commas! Because I want to party with the strippers, JFK, and Stalin, not the strippers, JFK and Stalin.

All asides set off with commas on both ends

Check every use of “only” – is it in the right place, modifying what I intend it to modify? The lesson: how many different ideas can you get by moving “only” around in the following sentence? “The thief stole my pants yesterday.” Lily’s answer is seven. There are seven discrete ideas to be had based on which word “only” is modifying.


Names/titles capitalized as they should be

Quotes around dialogue, punctuation before/after as necessary

Smart quotes in proper alignment

All ellipses converted to the wider layout

Ellipses at the end of a sentence are followed by a period

Every sentence ends with punctuation

Every sentence begins with a capital letter

All em-dashes and hyphens are what they should be


I know that looks like a lot. It is, but when the rules of grammar, punctuation, and style are ingrained in your mind, most of these can be done simultaneously. These are potential violations, but it’s not like a flag is going to get thrown for all of them every play, you know? They’re just all the spots I know to look a little more closely at. But the magnitude of my modest little editing list does explain why so many hire-an-editor advocates recommend multiple editors – it takes a very special person to keep all these strands in mind at once. Like an INTJ. Heh.



Filed under Ramblings, Writing

6 responses to “The Epic Editorial Hit-List (List Edition)

  1. Just bookmarked your list – to add to mine. I’m starting the last Chapter’s major revision tomorrow (aka complete rewrite in places), and then into the edits!

    Looks like pretty comprehensive list.

    Than GOD you like the Oxford comma – I can’t live without it.

    I know how to spell and punctuate; unfortunately, my fingers are getting slow and old. I found a ‘g’ missing in reconize just the other day.

    Best of luck with the detail work.

    • I think you probably need more luck with the details than me right now!-if you are about to head into final edits. I am still happily (or unhappily, as it may be) writing chapter 1 from scratch, followed by pretty extensive re-writes of another 3 or so chapters. Scene-wise I suppose there are only 5 major revisions, and I’m through one of them – four to go. But it’s a lot of words, and I am working at a snail’s pace.

      I hope my list is useful for you. It’s definitely calibrated to allow for my own weaknesses as a writer (or, at least, those that I am aware of!), but much of it is universal. Luckily for me I write pretty cleanly out of the gate – like you, I know how to spell and punctuate, so it’s just a matter of finding the few that slip past. Most of which I catch well before a formal editing pass, anyway, since I tend to copyedit/proofread what I wrote the previous session while trying to warm myself up for the new one.

      The Oxford comma, IMO, should not be up for debate as optional. No. It should be necessary, and its lack should be assumed to mean the last two items in the list are conflated into one.

      • And the perennial favorite: “Lets eat Grandma!”

        I find that those who DO know how to spell and punctuate are compulsive about rooting out those last little typos, and the ones who are not seem to not have the least interest in the process.

        Maybe it’s one of these things, like the ability to pick up the new sounds of a foreign language, that are lost if not exercised by a certain age.

        I see some of these features in my chinchilla. She was six months old when I acquired her (son and girlfriend moving to hot climate), and we have been unable to change her ‘personality’ much.

        But humans are supposed to be able to change.

        Problem is, when you write ‘there’ for ‘their’ incorrectly, it reinforces the wrong version in your brain, making it even less likely that you’ll get it right the next time.

        I guess that keeps editors and proofreaders in eating money, but it seems so unnecessary. One thing is artistry (professionals who can make your book look especially nice), and the other is basic competence at a task. The latter should be within the reach of most humans.

        Oh, well. Preaching to the choir.

        Happy writing.

      • You are, indeed, preaching to the choir – but i absolutely agree. Being able to write correctly, not counting typographical errors and stylistic mis-steps, is basic task competence for being a writer. And yet “everyone” needs an editor. I have lost track of the number of times I’ve heard a writer say they “can’t” edit their own work. No, you WON’T. You won’t take the time to acquire the knowledge and skill set that would enable you to do so…and, by the by, enable you to write correctly in the first place instead of having to go back and correct it later. I don’t really mind the laziness of it so much as the disingenuousness of it.

  2. You’re hired.

    (oh, my head hurts)

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