Editing Checklist: NaNoWriMo Revision Month

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Whether you won NaNoWriMo this year and have a messy manuscript to show for it or you’ve worked tirelessly all year, carefully constructing your words to the end, every manuscript—no matter how tidy—needs an editing plan. Ask any author and he or she will agree: A first, second, third, or tenth draft is a brain-child, a labor of love. You may be the kind of author who would rather keep it hidden in your bedside drawer than let a scary, word-ripping vampire of an editor pry your story out of your dead cold hands.

I’m here to alleviate your fears, assuage your doubts. Listen: Editors (the good ones) are for you. Our allegiance is to your story. Our goal is to edit your words, not your voice; our mission is to make your book the absolute best it can be. We’re not out to kill and destroy your characters or your dreams. So if you’ve been nervous about taking that leap to contact an editor about your book, I implore you: Take the jump. You may be too close to your story, and a second set of eyes will always be worth it if you choose the right editor.

Before You Send in Your Manuscript

While I strongly encourage authors to seek out content, developmental, or copyeditors, I also want to draw attention to the value of self-editing or an in-depth read through. There are many steps you can take toward improving your novel before contacting an editor. These steps include what I like to call “big picture” edits. You want to avoid passing along a WIP with plot holes or major discrepancies in the storyline or with characters. Don’t worry about commas and quotation marks so much in this read through; rather, focus on the MC’s best friend who has blonde hair in chapter one but red hair in chapter fifteen. And guess what? If you’re self-publishing, doing an in-depth read through will save your editor time and, in turn, it will save you money. It’s a win-win. If you’re submitting your manuscript for publication at a traditional publishing house, self-editing beforehand could make or break a potential contract.

Editing Checklist

Plots & Subplots: Write a list or draw a map of what occurs in the main plot and all the different subplots. Do they all tie together nicely? Do they fit? I like to think of this process as reverse planning or plotting. You may have written a brief outline of your plot or character charts before writing the book, but we all know those outlines and plans can change. Characters seem to take on a life of their own, and that’s something to embrace. Now is the time to go back and track where these characters actually went and what they actually did. Don’t get bogged down with the writing; use your writer-hound nose and track and record your story. Writing it all down may reveal a need for scene changes or other major revisions. Subplots are especially tricky; sometimes they get lost in the slush and adventure of the main plot. Make sure all your subplots have a purpose and that they are progressing throughout your story.

Chapters & Pacing: Take a few moments to count how many pages are in each chapter. This quick exercise may tell you what you need to know about pacing. Counting chapter pages isn’t really a way to fix pacing problems, it’s more of a tool—like a thermometer. Keeping track of page numbers will help you gauge what’s going on in the environment; it may be an indicator that you’ve got SAGGING MIDDLE SYNDROME. In many well-constructed novels, the plot will follow an arc with regular crises leading to a climax and denouement. The action of the narrative should rise up to a peak and then fall away to the resolution.

Character Check: This may be the most nerve-wracking aspect of your novel to revisit, because you’ve (hopefully) grown to like your characters—or you at least find them interesting, right? You don’t want to be like that wife who makes a list of all her husband’s flaws and sets out to change them. Changing people like our spouses or our friends and family members usually turns out badly. But, I’m here to give you the green light. Besides, you’ve heard the saying: Kill your darlings. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. Readers should have emotional reactions to fictional characters. Give yourself the space to ask:

  • Is this character well rounded and drawn in detail?

  • Is he or she believable? Do I really trust that he or she is reacting that way? Do the motives line up with the actions?

  • Does the character grow and evolve in ways that are both surprising and satisfying?

  • Does the character serve a purpose in the narrative? Does he or she advance the plot?

Poking at POV: Have you identified your POV? (I hope so!) Does it change throughout the story? It’s important for your editor to understand your choice of POV and whether you are using it to the best of your advantage. Go back and identify the POV in your novel and note any issues or inconsistencies you see. The most common issue in a novel told by a single first-person character is the problem of the limited viewpoint. During your in-depth read through, keep an eye out for POV problems like this: Does always being inside the head of the narrator make it difficult for readers to see, hear, and experience what the narrator sees, hears, and experiences? If so, you, as the author, may struggle with plot developments that would be hard for a narrator to know. Voice is another recurrent issue with first-person narratives. Is the voice consistent? Are you able to switch voices so that the characters all sound different?

Explanations and transitions: Many new authors struggle with transitions from scene to scene. Sometimes they are prone to explain rather than naturally merge information into the story through dialogue or world-building. Check for author intrusion: an issue in which authors insert themselves into the story by over-explaining certain plot or character elements. Check to see if a transitional sentence will help shift a scene smoother into another scene. For example, it can be easy to lose readers’ attention if a scene is set in one place and then jumps to another without a transportation scene.

Formatting: Some publishing houses receive an overwhelming amount of manuscripts a month. This could mean that each editor discovers hundreds of submissions sitting in their inbox. Editors want concise, easy-to-follow manuscripts. If editors pick up works by new authors that haven’t been formatted properly, they may be tempted to throw it in the slush pile. A clean, well-formatted manuscript has a much better chance of catching an editor’s attention.

Generally, a book should be formatted in the following manner:

  • Double-spaced

  • 12-point type, usually Times Roman or Times New Roman fonts.

  • Separated into chapters, usually one-third of the way down a new page, marked with a large, bold number.*

  • Every page should have a one-inch margin all the way around.

  • Paragraphs should be set to hanging indent, meaning the beginning of each paragraph is indented five spaces. Once the manuscript is double spaced, do not add an extra space between the paragraphs or before each sentence. A new paragraph should only be specified by an indented first line.

  • In the cover page, include the following in the upper left corner of the page, each on a separate line:

Author’s Name
Street Address
City, Province, Code, Country
Phone number, e-mail address

In the upper right corner put the genre and word count on a separate line.
In ALL CAPITALS, center halfway down the page the following:

TITLE
BY:
AUTHOR'S NAME

  • Do not include a page number on the cover page

*A lot of Christian fiction today does not include chapter titles, but if a manuscript includes chapter titles, they should be written in bold under the chapter number. A Table of Contents is not essential unless an agent or publisher asks for one.

Next Time . . .

Once you’ve given your manuscript an in-depth read through (read, revise, repeat) and it’s time to contact an editor to do the heavy lifting, there are additional steps to consider to make sure you find the right editor that matches your book and editing needs. Stay tuned for the CHOOSING THE RIGHT EDITOR CHECKLIST. In the meantime, write (and edit!) with courage, friends! ;)