It’s that dreading time in your novel where you’ve completed the first draft and let it breath for a little while, but now you have to do the editing before you can send it off to beta readers or your editor. No heavy sighs and no groaning. Editing isn’t so bad when you go into it prepared. For me, I have a little cheat sheet that I keep nearby when I’m starting the editing phase and it helps tremendously. With the cheat sheet, I can remember to watch for little things and edit in waves rather than plunk down in front of the manuscript and try to face the daunting task head on.
With all of that said, I can provide you with the cheat sheet I use when revising my manuscript after the first pass. Some things may be different based on the way you work and based on common issues your own writing may have, and this is also not to be used for a final pass edit. I suggest using an editor for that. At any rate, onto the list.
1. Fix General Trouble Areas (Homophones and Common Misspellings) - This one will vary from writer to writer. Come up with a short list of problems with specific homophones or spelling errors you notice your work has. For me, I have this annoying habit of typing LEAD instead of LED, almost every time when I’m writing really fast. So, it’s the first thing I check for, especially because it’s something easy to fix too. Sometimes, I have issues with Its and It’s. When I’m in “the zone” while writing, my fingers will just type and my brain is in full-on right side mode, so things like grammar and homophones are not on my mind. So, I check first for the homophones and any other minor spelling issues I know I have that can easily be found using the Find/Replace function. Compile a list of your known trouble areas to remember them.
2. Check Dialogue and Dialogue Tags - I check my dialogue for awkward phrasing. Sometimes I say it out loud to be sure it sounds like something a character would actually say. Dialogue should flow freely and be easy to read. Natural. Just like speaking is. I also make sure that I’m not repeating information with dialogue and that I’m cutting unnecessary dialogue. While I’m checking on these things, I also check my tags. Do I abuse adverbs? Do I repeat in the dialogue tags what is already clear from the dialogue? Is there a way to remove the tags and add an action? Before I finish this step, I also make sure that it’s clear who is talking. You don’t want the reader to be confused.
3. Check for Point of View Shifts - This is something I rarely have an issue with, but there are cases when I switch a sentence into a different point of view on accident. Unless your story is in third person omniscient, you should generally have only one point of view at a time. When you do have to change the POV, be sure that it is done clearly.
4. Watch for Repeating Words - Some writers or readers might not care, but I look out for repeats. As a reader, I notice things like chapters or paragraphs in a row that start with the same word or sentence structure. At first glance, this might not matter, for chapters even less so, but generally this indicates monotony. Varying sentence structure and word usage helps break up the monotony. No matter how action-packed or how interesting or how important the section might be, monotony will kill it. So, I check for this in my own writing. This also goes for word usage too. If I have a paragraph with four sentences in it and use the word “coin” five times, it’s too many. Or if I use a character’s name too many times in several sentences. Often, we don’t need constant reminders of what the word is.
5. Focus on Pacing and Plot Consistency - Pacing is important when writing a good story, as is consistency in the plot. This is where I check for plot holes or check for details like whether or not character A’s hair color changed part way through the book. Pacing should be looked at scene by scene and overall. Are there any places that drag in the overall book? Is there anywhere that needs to slow down a little? In my work, there tends to be a lot of action and high energy, so when I am revising I tend to look out for areas where there is little to no “down time”. Sometimes readers need a break from the action. If I forgot this fact during my outlining and writing phase, I have to correct it during the editing phase.
6. Listen to Your Manuscript - The last thing I do to get my manuscript ready for eyes other than my own, is to physically listen to the manuscript. Use the Text to Speech tool or have someone read it back to you. Yes, the entire thing. Listening to your book will help you pick out the trouble areas. It will also help you catch spelling or grammar mistakes as well as awkward dialogue. Also, it’s really fun to hear your book being read out loud.
If you need a reminder of what to look for when you edit your manuscript, feel free to use this cheat sheet. Anything else that is needed should be mentioned by your beta readers, editor, and proofreader, which is why this list isn’t all inclusive. Also, what works for me, may not work for you. I suggest you learn what your weaknesses are and create your own cheat sheet that caters best to your needs.