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.