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Lisa’s Editing Checklist

Congratulations. If you now have a completed manuscript to edit, you are already much farther along the writing journey than most Americans who say they want to someday write a novel but never do.

By sticking your butt in your writing chair, you now have a story. You are leaps and bounds above many others who only talk about writing but have yet to learn and commit themselves to the discipline of long, lonely hours at a keyboard.

Talk is cheap. You, my friend, are a doer. Rejoice and be glad.

Think your hardest work is behind you? Maybe. Maybe not.

The best garden—as Alison Monaghan, landscape designer extraordinaire, would say—are those that are regularly and sometimes as the situation demands, savagely pruned.

Okay—yes—she is the fictional heroine in Carolina Reckoning (August 2013). But she is correct. We are—Ephesians 2 tells us—God’s masterpiece, the work of His Hand just as your great American novel is the work of yours. If He, the God of all wisdom, sees fit to mold and shape us, to chasten and PRUNE us—who are we to think we can do anything less with the work of our mere mortal hands.

Roll up your sleeves. Cutting may rip your soul to shreds. But work through the pain. In the long run, pruning/editing makes everything better. Pray hard for yourself. May the God of all comfort and peace be with you.

First Chapter Particulars—Editors and agents often proceed no further than the first page much less the first chapter. How do you make sure your first chapter reels them in?

  1. What’s the hook that will lure readers into my story world?
  2. Will readers care about the protagonist enough from the hook to keep reading?
  3. Is my protagonist likable, quirky, and capable of engaging reader identification?
  4. Have I stretched the hook by adding more and more of interest to a reader?
  5. Have I killed action and dialogue already in backstory and description dumps?

Personal Edit Prompts as I comb through the manuscript in Revision #1, Revision #6—
you get the picture…

  1. Highlight first three chapters for any backstory—use backstory later in manuscript
    after reader is committed to protagonist and finding out what happens next.
  2. Slice anything not vital—goal is to increase curiosity not to satisfy curiosity.
  3. Dice description of scene or character into bits—be brutal.
  4. Splice in only what reader needs to know now to understand storyline.
  5. Did I establish setting right away with a thumbnail sketch of mood, theme, and time?
    Less is more.
  6. Did I illustrate relationships and characters through action and dialogue?
  7. Have I woven description into action?
  8. Every time I introduce a new character did I stop the action with a description dump?
    Go for quality in characterization and scene setting and not quantity.
  9. Did I maintain consistent POV (point of view)?
  10. Do all the scenes produce some new development and keep the story moving forward?
  11. Does each scene have a purpose and fulfill its purpose?
  12. Delete adverbs if possible and replace with stronger verbs.
  13. Do the gestures add value and deepen characterization or does it make the character
    appear to be spastic?
  14. Search and replace forms of the verb “to be” and other fluff words—see article “How to Spot a Weasel”
  15. Have I woven description into the action?
  16. Examine verbs—find stronger ones.
  17. Did I maintain FAS—feeling, action, speech—in that order?
  18. Did I stick with invisible tags like “said” or “asked”?
  19. Can I eliminate tags with a more descriptive beat?
  20. Did I keep POV realism? A cop will not notice her blouse was Vera Wang azure blue silk.
    It will be a blue blouse.
  21. Do I trust the reader to get it?
  22. Is there clear and viable conflict—internally and externally—in every scene?
  23. How is my showing versus telling? Search for telling words—be ruthless.
  24. Have I gone all Brit speak instead of American English for American characters?
    Forward, toward, backward is American speak. No “s” on end.
  25. In every scene, do my readers and characters experience all five senses—sight, hearing,
    tasting, touch and texture, and most evocative of all, smelling?

Are you there yet? No, you’re not.

Let the manuscript sit for one month—Sip sweet tea, catch fireflies, be a wife and mother and responsible American—then go through the checklist again.

Let a trusted friend or spouse with fresh eyes go through manuscript for either NOT BOTH—

  1. Readability
  2. Line edits of grammar, punctuation, anything incomprehensible and stupid.

Let a trusted writing buddy with fresh eyes go through manuscript for structure, tone,
POV consistency and other technical writer stuff.

Study the market. Target your submissions. Give it to God. Learn that contentment with
godliness is a beautiful thing. Forget about your darling child out there in Submission Land.
Get back to work on your next great novel idea.

Lisa Carter Author - For Writers