Editing checklist

When I first started writing, I wrote a very earnest letter to my cousin who writes. I said, “I think I have a second draft, but I’m not sure.” She replied, “If you think you do, you probably do.”

This is how I learned fiction writers are liars.

So, after reading many many many craft books, adopting what works for me and pitching the rest, I have the following checklist. Caveats: I wrote this for me, and so some of it may be cryptic and a lot of it is aimed at my own weaknesses.

One thing you may notice: I start from broad (the overall story) and go down to the small (paragraph). Nobody told me you should edit in this order, and it felt counter-intuitive because most feedback you get when you first start is very fine detail. I am telling you this now: edit yourself in this order.

Conceptual – BEFORE YOU START

  • Should YOU be writing this?
  • Is the concept freaking racist (or sexist, or homophobic etc)?
  • Is this a story only you can tell? Can you make it into that?
  • Who gives a shit?
  • What research do you need to do to make this work?
  • What skills do you need to improve? Read that book! Take that class!

 

First Draft

Just write some bullshit until The End, it doesn’t matter lol

 

EDITING

Global level

  • What is the theme of the book? (“When [type of person] does [x], [outcome]”)
  • What internal and external competing values are at stake? Do they reflect the theme?
  • Identify the protagonist
  • What does (s)he want? Need? Fear?
  • What is the genre (expectations, obligatory scenes, common tropes)
  • Write a synopsis!
    • Name the inciting incident
    • Complications (the “turns”; revelatory or action?)
    • Crisis (irreconcilable goods or best bad choice?)
    • Climax (a choice made)
    • Resolution (consequence felt)
    • Is there a clear cause and effect chain?
    • WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE INCITING INCIDENT (and perhaps inciting incidents for the acts), do the protagonist’s choices drive the plot?
  • Is there a shift in the character’s state of wellbeing?
  • Is there a shift in their internal values?
  • Continuity check
  • Hero’s journey check
  • Genre’s obligatory scenes check
  • Compare structure to at least one successful exemplar of the genre. If 2, one recent and one classic. Is the pacing similar (this is probably good)? Are you innovating?

 

Act level

  • Who is the protagonist and what does (s)he want?
  • Inciting incident (causal or coincidental? identify)
  • Complication (the scene “turns”; revelatory or action? identify)
  • Crisis (irreconcilable goods or best bad choice?)
  • Climax (a choice made)
  • Resolution (consequence felt)
  • Does conflict tie into global theme?
  • Inciting incident (causal or coincidental? Don’t repeat too many times; switch up)
  • Complication (the scene “turns”; revelatory or action? switch up)
  • Crisis (irreconcilable goods or best bad choice? switch up, but second is more tense)
  • Climax (a choice made)
  • Resolution (consequence felt)
  • Is the 1st act roughly 25% of the book?
  • Is the midpoint at 50-60% of the way through?
  • Does the final act start at 75% to 80% of the way through?
  • In the 2nd act, do the scenes progressively complicate the plot (each choice CANNOT be undone)?
  • Are the break into 2nd act, Midpoint, and Climax each increasing in intensity?
  • Do we have “pinch points” (moments which give us periodic insight into the antagonist motives?)
  • Is there a shift in the character’s state of wellbeing?
  • Is there a shift in their internal values?

Scene level

  • Inciting incident (causal or coincidental? Don’t repeat too many times; switch up)
  • Complication (the scene “turns”; revelatory or action? switch up)
  • Crisis (irreconcilable goods or best bad choice? switch up, but second is more intense)
  • Climax (a choice made)
  • Resolution (consequence felt; especially at key points, these SHOULD be irreversible)
  • Does conflict tie into global theme?
  • Is it just a repetition of the last scene’s conflict, or does it build?
  • Is there a shift in the internal stakes (as stated in the theme)?
  • Is there a shift in their internal values (as stated in the theme)?

 

Paragraph level

  • Grammar / spelling
  • Sentences (generally) in chronological order?
  • Cause and effect chain maintained?
  • Stays in one POV?
  • Interesting turn of phrase (cliché check)
  • Interesting physical detail?
  • Clarity check (read aloud)
  • Style check– style consistent, or shifts justified?
  • Does each sentence add more information? If not, cut.
  • Do I need this information NOW? If not, cut.
  • Voice / profluence check— chain of external action, external reaction of others, internal reaction, rationalization, external action maintained.

Query bullshit

  • Polish the hell out of first page, first 10 and first 50
  • Write query
  • Send query
  • Cry

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