A little while ago I posted about my art checklist, which also doubled for writing reference — but for writing, those elements were mostly general storytelling principles and/or diagnostic tools for stories I could tell had some internal failure.
This is my current actual high-level general editing checklist.
I usually maintain a list at the bottom of a story of things to go back and deal with once I get to the end — known problems, and so forth. And there are others I generally notice when I’m reading through a piece. But this list is — well, to be frank, it’s the things about which Angela Slatter, who does exceedingly thorough critiques, has most frequently scolded me.
Not all of these are necessarily problems at the draft stage — some are useful tricks to get a draft on the page. But I definitely need to remember to take down that scaffolding again when I’m done, and without a list I invariably forget.
Your list may vary! But, speaking as both a writer and someone who marks writing assignments, I highly recommend keeping one.
- Repetition: I’m not great at noticing overused words, but I’m very fond of using them. They are usually in a draft because I’m going for a particular aesthetic, and the words (in the latest story, “bright” and “glass”) are useful shorthand. But I do need to go back and add some strength and subtlety in the draft.
- Long sentences: They flow out so nicely! But what’s nice for the writer isn’t always intelligible to the reader. Occasionally they’re justified, but they’re more often a place where I haven’t clarified my thoughts yet.
- Emotions: I tend to leave emotions out on early drafts, and either assume readers will work them out, or that it will be more efficient to add them in once I’ve locked down the plot. In the second case, I need to be reminded to put them in. In the first case, it’s a disconnect between how I experienced things as a reader of my favourite books, and what the writers actually did to create that effect.
- Ands: One of the culprits behind long sentences. I can usually drop about 4% of a word count by replacing a judicious number with full stops.
- Page numbers/headers: Formatting changes sometimes strip these out, and it also reminds me to tidy up the rest of the manuscript formatting.
- Helicopter descriptions of locations instead of white rooms: This, again, is the disconnect between how I experience things as a reader, and how I need to set up that experience as a writer.
- “Green”, “pale”, etc: A subset of repetition, but in this case specific words I will almost always overuse, whatever the aesthetic: green, pale, dim, dull, etc. I just like them.
- I need to add in a few more: “rule of three”, in terms of setting reveals, etc.; “em-dashes”, because they proliferate; and “italics” because even if I don’t describe emotions, that doesn’t mean characters aren’t melodramatic.
And the story I used this version of the list on has been accepted and should be coming out late this year or early next! More on that in due course.