My Top 20 Editing Checklist

I'm taking part in a blog challenge during the month of April hosted by ProBlogger. It's called "31 Days To A Better Blog," and one of the challenges for this week is to have a list post.

Since I'm always looking to improve my writing skills, I decided that my list post is going to be my editing checklist.

The great thing about this checklist is I can use it for other things besides my own writing. I can use it when I read a book for review or when I critique other writers. Here's my list--hope you can find a way to use it as well.

1. First Chapters

Does the beginning of the story:

  • set up the story problem and reveal the internal and external conflicts of characters?
  • bond the reader to the main character?
  • start in the middle of the action to draw the reader in?
  • show the old world environment and protagonist before the story change?
  • give a glimpse of the major characters, and how they view themselves and their situation?
  • show interpersonal dynamics between major characters?
  • hint at backstory (but only what is natural to tell the reader in the context of they story)?
  • make the reader want to continue to the second part of the story?

2. Punctuation, Usage, Grammar & Spelling

It's easy to miss these little things when you're concentrating on big things like plot, pacing and characterization, but they are every bit as important.

Mistakes in this area draw your readers away from the story world. Your job as a storyteller is to keep them in the story world, not have them puzzling over the misuse of a word.

3. Plot, Structure & Scene

  • Does every scene have a purpose, such as moving the story forward and developing the characters?
  • Is every scene either an Action (with goals, conflict & disaster) or Reaction (with dilemmas and decisions of the character)?
  • Are subplots woven into the storyline?
  • Is the plot logical and believable?
  • Does the story follow the three-act structure: Act I (first quarter of the book-see point 1 above); Act II (developing plot through conflict & tension, escalating the stakes for the main characters); Act III (provides resolution to the story in a way that resonates with the reader; answers story problem set in the beginning of the novel)?
  • Does the micro-structure of my story include motivation reaction units (cause and effect, stimulus/response)? (See Dwight V. Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer.)

4. Pacing

  • Are there places where you're tempted to skim? (So will the reader.)
  • Do action scenes move fast enough (with shorter sentences and paragraphs and less description)?
  • Does the story drag in places because of too much introspection or description?

5. Dialogue

Does the dialogue:

  • sound realistic and natural?
  • reveal the characters, including background and education?
  • advance the story?
  • bore the reader with the common? ("Hello. How are you?" "I'm fine. How about you?"- YAWN)
  • develop character relationships?
  • reveal emotion?
  • sound like you rather than the characters?

Are attributions:

  • only used when needed?
  • limited to the simple "he said/she said (asked)" and auditory verbs?

6. Sensory Detail

  • Are all five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste & touch) used in every scene in a way that adds to the overall story?
  • Have you included the sense of being led by the Spirit?
  • Have you included sense of time and sense of space in every scene?

7. Passive/Active

  • Have you used strong verbs and nouns?
  • Have you avoided the use of "was" and other "to be" verbs as much as possible?
  • Do you have the subjects doing the action rather than being acted upon?
  • Have you checked "ing" verbs and "as" to make sure they are used correctly?
  • Do you "show" rather than "tell" as much as possible?

8. Overused Words & Phrases/Cliches

  • Are the same words and phrases used over and over again throughout the novel and in close proximity to each other?
  • Are you using the same body language and facial expressions over and over again?
  • Are you using tired and lifeless cliches rather than fresh writing?
  • Have you used the "Find" feature on your word processing program to find overused words and phrases?

9. Characterization

  • Are your characters unique and individual, from each other, and from you?
  • Are they unforgettable and endearing?
  • Do they have well-motivated actions and reactions? In other words, are they believable?
  • Are they four-dimensional (spirit, body, mind, emotions)?
  • Do they have positive and negative qualities?
  • Do they have inner and outer conflicts and goals?
  • Do they change over the course of the story?
  • Do they have an identifiable voice?
  • Are they consistently inconsistent? (All real people are.)
  • Do they have quirks, mannerisms or traits that make them memorable?

10. Emotion

  • Do I give the reader a powerful emotional experience? (See Randy Ingermanson's Advanced Fiction Writing site.)
  • Do I show the strong emotional responses of characters? (These are involuntary physical responses that come from a person's emotional reaction to sensory stimuli. See Margie Lawson's "Empowering Character Emotion" workshop.)
  • Do I use fresh language to adequately express the emotion the character is feeling without resorting to cliches or telling the reader what the character is feeling?
  • Do I use emotional hits in my writing? (Again, see Margie Lawson's most excellent workshop.)

11. Setting

  • Do I sprinkle description throughout the story rather than load it all in one place?
  • Do I give the reader a sense of being in the story world through the character's sensory perception of the setting?
  • Do I use climate and light to reinforce the mood of the story and what is happening to the character?

12. RUE

  • Do I "resist the urge to explain" what my character is saying, thinking, and feeling?
  • Am I using telling adverbs and adjectives that explain, rather than letting the reader discover?

13. Research

Have I thoroughly and carefully researched details for my story, including:

  • setting?
  • names?
  • legal and medical issues?
  • historical facts?

14. Point Of View & Tense

  • Do I stay in one character's point of view for each scene, rather than hopping from one head to the other?
  • Do I stay in the same tense for the entire book (or each scene, depending on the structure of the story)?

15. Backstory

  • Do I throw in backstory naturally, as the character would tell the past?
  • Do I use backstory in small snippets throughout the story?
  • Do I use only the backstory that is necessary to the plot?

16. Cadence/Voice/Style

  • Have I read the story aloud to check for cadence?
  • Have I maintained a consistent tone throughout the story?

17. Backloading & Rhetorical Devices

  • Have I worded my sentences & paragraphs so that the most powerful words are at the end?
  • Have I used various rhetorical devices, such as metaphors and similes, to make the story more powerful?

18. Hooks

  • Do I use a hook at the beginning of each scene/chapter to draw the reader further into the story?
  • Do I use hooks at the ends of scenes/chapters to compel the reader to keep turning pages?

19. Choreography/Action

  • Have I choreographed my character's actions in the scene so that every move makes sense and adds to the story?
  • Have I interspersed these actions with dialogue, body language, sensory detail, setting, internal monologue and conflict?

20. Theme

  • Has the theme of my story come through naturally, without resorting to preachiness or politicizing?

Please feel free to add your own editing process tips in the comment section. I'm always eager to learn more. Are there any bullet points you would add under these topic headings? Are there other topic headings you would add?

Please feel free to link to this post, and don't forget about social bookmarking (I Digg being Dugg)!

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