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There are many ways to approach manuscript editing, each with its own particular process, and nearly every editor and writing advice site has their or its own method. This post will describe the most common types, explain what they’re for, and provide questions you can ask yourself to ensure that you’re approaching this stage in the best way possible.
Bear in mind that this is my preferred order to do these kinds of editing, but feel free to do whatever works for you.
Content / Substantive
Pretend you don’t know the story at all.
Usually the first pass done on a manuscript is to ensure that the whole story works as a story.
Answering these questions, and perhaps letting a beta reader or two read the manuscript, will likely lead into a round (or two, or seven) of revisions. Don’t be upset if you need to chuck subplots, rewrite entire chapters, merge characters, or any other number of things to firm up the novel. This is totally normal. (I’ve rewritten the ending of one of my novels so many times that I literally don’t remember which one is the one in the published version of the book.)
Writing is like archeology—you can only uncover the bones if you dig. And sometimes you think you’ve found a T-Rex when really it’s a Woolly Mammoth. Further investigation and careful consideration are always your friend.
Pretend you’re a High School English Teacher
Now that you know the story is solid, ask yourself if the words you are using to tell the story are the right ones.
Think about the tone you’re trying to convey, and make sure the prose uplifts and supports your story.
Scansion and Wordcrafting
Pretend you’re a Theatre Kid
At this point, we’re starting to get into the nitty-gritty of things, like the individual choice of words and how they’re strung together.
One of the best exercises I know for making sure dialog sounds natural and your sentences flow smoothly is to actually read it out loud to yourself. Your ear will let you know when something is janky.
Pretend you’re the judgiest person on the planet.
This is your last chance to make sure that everything is legible and understandable on a word-by-word basis. I’m not saying it has to be boringly follow-the-rules correct, but be aware that anything that gets between your reader and the understanding of the prose is the perfect opportunity for them to DNF.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make sure it’s a good one.
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