So I’ve finished another book, and now I’m stuck with my neck craning back, aching, a wall looming before me, and I just can’t bring myself to figure out: What is the key to editing? Being a perfectionist, there seems to be so much looming before me, but I feel like if I break it down, then it doesn’t seem that bad anymore. So tad-dah! Here’s the 5 levels of editing:
1. Plot’s ARC
This is the broadest, most general pass I do while editing. Here I’m looking across my entire story, examining it for an arc, explained earlier here. I want to make sure it has all the general pieces of a story, specifically a climax, and I want to make sure it smoothly increases and decreases in tension. Bobby shouldn’t be dying before readers know he’s fallen down the stairs, or that he’s fallen down the stairs because he has a loose peg leg, which his brother unwittingly loosened for him after a fight over their favorite game.
2. Chapter Editing
At this point, I’m no longer looking at the entire book but each chapter, and there’s a few things I’m checking for:
- Looking for a purpose/conflict so that the story moves itself ahead
- If the chapter is missing one or the other, I need to change it so it has both
- Checking for realistic dialogue
- Editing transitions between chapters so that you don’t lose focus/tension
3. Paragraph Editing
Here are stylistic changes, which means adding more character reflection or imagery. My goal is that every chapter comes alive and that can’t happen unless you’re connected to the characters (through internal reflection) or until you can see the story (which means more detailed imagery, using as many senses as possible). Currently, I’m not here, but later I’m going to find my ideal paragraph and use that as a standard to measure up against the rest of my writing.
4. Line Editing
Here focus is narrowed until you’re looking at individual lines. Your always asking yourself, is there a better way to say this? Is it awkward? A good test at this point is to start reading your whole story aloud. Read it to a partner or friend. What can sound good in your head can sound really awkward aloud, and usually your mouth is already fixing the sentence for you. Try it.
5. Word Editing (aka proof-reading)
This is more like copy-editing as this point with CUPS, ensuring you have good spelling. Changing your word choice when you think of a better word. Etc. At this point, you should be feeling happy with the story, and if not, you need to go back and rethink at what point are you not happy? Maybe there’s something you need to fix.