Whether you’re pursuing traditional or self-publishing, self-editing is one of the most crucial skills any writer can possess. It’s not an exaggeration to say that novels are made or broken by the revision process.
But it’s very difficult to see your work objectively, and novels are wondrously complex. I find it helpful to be systematic and ask myself very specific questions to isolate potential problems.
Use this revision checklist to identify areas where your book needs additional editing!
- Do I know my novel’s perspective? Is it completely consistent? Do I really understand the difference between third person omniscient, third person limited, and head jumping/hopping? Really really?
- Do I have a plot?
- Does my protagonist(s) want something? Are the stakes clear to the reader?
- Is change underway in my setting that impacts the characters?
- Do my characters face obstacles of increasing intensity?
- Does my protagonist(s) emerge changed?
Structure and organization
- Are my characters actively going after things they want in every single scene? Even if they’re shy or adrift/depressed/aimless?
- Does my main plot arc initiate close enough to the beginning that I won’t lose the reader? Should I include a mini-quest before the main plot kicks off to keep the protagonist active?
- Are my chapters well-organized? Do they reach a definitive moment of punctuation or do they fizzle out?
- Does my protagonist(s) alternate between up and down moments, with the most intense towards the end?
- Is the pacing correct for my genre? Is it consistent?
- Are momentous events given the weight they deserve? Am I being conscious about what is dramatized and what happens off the page?
- If I can take out a chapter and the plot will still make sense, is that chapter really necessary? Should some events be folded in with others?
- Does my book come to a satisfying climax? Does the ending feel rushed?
Characters and relationships
- Do I have enough conflict?
- Does the reader see the best and worst characteristics of my main characters? Are their strengths balanced by weaknesses? Am I being too easy on them?
- Is my protagonist(s) engaging or am I risking “losing” the reader with actions that are beyond the pale?
- Do my characters have specific hopes and dreams?
- Do the relationships between my characters change and become more complicated as the book goes on?
- Do conflicts between characters end in the same muddled place or are conflicts allowed to linger? Are there ups and downs? Do the characters have to work hard to achieve resolutions?
- Do my characters have backstories and histories? Do these impact the plot? Do I really need them on the page?
- Do any of my characters feel flat? Do they need to be spiced up?
- Are the adults running away with my children’s novel?
Craft and prose
- Am I over-relying on dialogue? Do the conversations have a point? Are my protagonist(s) motivations and thought processes clear from the narrative voice?
- Am I providing adequate physical description to immerse the reader in the setting? Am I describing new characters and settings when they’re first introduced? Is it clear how characters are moving from Point A to Point B?
- Am I orienting the reader at the start of new scenes?
- Am I giving the reader sufficient context to understand what’s happening? Am I bogging things down with aimless info-dumps?
- Are my mysteries chosen judiciously or am I being so vague I’m going to confuse the reader?
- Are my gestures specific and individualized? Am I including aimless stage direction?
- Do I know my writing tics? Is my voice consistent?
- Is my prose belabored with excessive words or explanations that are already apparent from context? Am I over-explaining “default” objects?
- Am I using active verbs and clearing out the clutter in my prose?
- Is my novel formatted correctly?
- If I’m pursuing traditional publishing, does the first installment in a series come to a completely satisfying conclusion that does not depend on a sequel?
- Do I know my genre?
- Is my word count appropriate for my genre?
- Is my novel’s title evocative and genre-appropriate?
All of this is easier said than done! It’s so difficult to see what is and isn’t on the page, which is why seeking feedback is important. But the farther you can get self-editing on your own, the more you’ll get out of the editing process.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my online classes (NEW!), my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Poor Artist’s Cupboard by Charles Bird King