For an author, self-editing can be difficult. Even if you are the type that is extra critical of your work, it can still be easy to miss things that another person can see because you are so close to your work. One way to avoid missing problems is using a checklist.
I am nearly done self-editing my first novel. Editing my writing has taught me several lessons about what problems can sneak past even the most paranoid of editors. These lessons have made me more aware of my pitfalls and transformed my editing checklist. This week I’m sharing some of the items I’ve added. Here are seven things you should have on your self-editing checklist.
1. Names. Sometimes a character’s name will change. If this has happened, you should watch for any instances that haven’t been changed to the new name yet. You should also be careful of spellings. I’ve discovered that I was using multiple spellings for the same character’s name. You should also check names for places and things. If something has a real-life counterpart, check that you have gotten the name correct. This type of mistake is very noticeable to readers, which is why you need to make a big point of checking this over and over.
2. Timeline. You most likely worked out a timeline for your story before you started to write (unless you’re the type that prefers to wing it). That doesn’t mean you kept that timeline while you were writing. Whenever you come across a date or other reference to time, check it against other time-related facts to make sure it matches your timeline or the true events that you are writing about.
3. Italics. Italics is very useful for authors. It can represent a foreign language, emphasis, and many other types of indications. The tricky part is not overdoing it. If you use italics too often, it will lose its meaning. You should decide what you want italics to mean in your novel and make sure you uphold that standard throughout. Readers can easily adapt to whatever your italics mean if you are consistent in your usage. For instance, I’ve chosen to use it as emphasis a couple times in dialogue but mostly to represent the characters’ thoughts.
4. Capitalization. There are, of course, rules to follow concerning capitalization, but some things are a matter of style. In these cases, it is much like italics. You need to create a standard for yourself and make sure it is carried out throughout the novel. For example, I have chosen to capitalize “season” whenever I’m referring to a social season so that it stands out as different from calendar seasons. The capitalization gives extra meaning to the word and correcting that break from proper capitalization would have lost that meaning.
5. Don’t lose characters. Unless you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, your characters should not be disappearing into thin air. As you edit, make a note of when a character comes in and check that all of those characters also have a point when they leave. Even minor characters that only briefly appear should have some kind of exit. You can’t just drop them. Your readers will most likely wonder about it and lose their focus on your actual point.
6. Details. One of the trickiest parts for both authors and editors are the details. I’ve already come across several pieces of furniture that magically changed colors. It is those types of things you need to watch out for. Keep notes of what things looked like, where things are, and other details so that you can check that they stay that way.
7. Word count. I don’t mean the word count of your novel. That you should have relatively under control. What I am talking about is the word count of each chapter. The average manuscript page is 250 words. Today, many readers are busy and have tight schedules. They can only dedicate so much time to reading. For the sake of your readers, keep a limit on the number of pages in a chapter. It might even help to break your chapters up into sections. I have been needing to adjust my chapters’ lengths because I was focused more on overall word count rather than chapter word count.
Self-editing can feel daunting. A checklist will help you ensure that the important details of your novel are accurate and cohesive. Keep editing and don’t be afraid to ask for help from others. A more objective set of eyes can help you see things that your readers might notice, but you wouldn’t give a second thought about. What items do you have on your checklist? Share them in the comments!