Story Development and Execution Part 10: Macro-Level Self-Editing

Ciao, SEers. Today is part ten of the series, and we’re getting into self-editing. The first step in the revision process is to work on the macro-level, or on the biggest issues. Joan introduced us to the basics in self-editing in this post. I’m going to dig a little deeper. I suggest two read-throughs in this section. The first just to get a feel for the story. The second is when you start to make notes on issues. Here are the things to look for.

First, hooks. We’ve already talked about this. The beginning of your novel needs a great hook, but to a slightly lesser extent, all your scenes do. Do you have great hooks? Did you start with a compelling first sentence, then grab the reader with a fascinating concept? Do they come early in each scene? Do they inform and be informed by character, conflict, theme, and setting?

Study your characters. Have they been introduced early enough? (The more important a character, the sooner readers should meet them.) Have you revealed the necessary information about them, and have you done so at the proper times? Have you sufficiently explored the internal and external conflicts they face? (Bonus points if the solutions to these conflicts are in direct opposition to each other.) Do they encounter enough roadblocks to their goals, and do they handle them in ways appropriate to their personalities? Do they have complete character arcs that show growth or a decline? Have you illuminated character flaws and solved them or worked around them? Are they relatable and realistic? Have you avoided making them stereotypes?

Study your scenes. Do you have both actions and reactions, and do they follow each other in a logical and balanced way? Do you continually raise stakes? Do you foreshadow important events (and hide those clues in plain sight)? Did you choose the correct POV character for each scene, or would one or more of them be more effective from someone else’s perspective? Do your scenes end with cliffhangers to encourage readers to continue?

Does the story have proper pacing and flow? Did you show or tell? Is the action chronological (or if you chose an out-of-sequence flow, does it achieve your purpose)? Does the story progress logically? Do your transitions work? Are there slow parts where you were inclined to skim or skip? Have you avoided info dumps while still imparting necessary information? Is there enough character backstory (or too much)?

Is your voice consistent throughout? Are your characters’ voices true and consistent? Have you always found/maintained appropriate tone?

Did you use symbolism in your story? Did you go overboard or not use it enough? Was it appropriate? Was it something readers will understand? Did it enhance your theme? Even without symbolism, is your theme clear and definable?

Do your scene endings work? Does the story’s ending work? Is the climax interesting, inevitable, and surprising? Did your characters achieve their goals? Did you tie up the critical loose ends? Is your denouement appropriate in content and length? If you chose an ambiguous ending, is it still satisfying?

To summarize, work on:

  • Hooks
  • Characters
  • Scenes
  • Pacing and Flow
  • Voice
  • Theme and Symbolism
  • Endings

These were all the broad issues to address in your story. Next time, we’ll delve into self-editing on the mid-level. Until then, I’d love to know more about your macro-level editing process. Please leave a comment below. Grazie!

Links to the Whole Series:

January 7: Idea Generation
February 2: Story Bible
February 28: Character
March 25: Dialogue
April 20: Plot
May 16: Constructing Chapters
June 10: Pacing/Tension/Suspense
July 6: Writing Suspense
August 1: Writing Action
August 26: Macro-Level Self-Editing
September 21: Mid-Level Self-Editing
October 17: Micro-Level Self-Editing
December 7: Planning a Series

Note: Links will only work on and after the date the post goes live.

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52 thoughts on “Story Development and Execution Part 10: Macro-Level Self-Editing

  1. What an excellent post, Staci, packed with good advice. One of the items that jumped out for me was symbolism. I used symbolism in one of my earliest books, and in looking back on it now, I realize I was a bit heavy-handed with it’s use. I’ve since learned to not beat the reader over the head. Sometimes, less really is more!

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  2. I love the in-depth, practical approach you’ve taken, Staci. I am big on self-editing–though my eyes are never the final pair to comb over my own work. Your pointers are great reminders of what it takes to create realistic characters, build interesting worlds, and frame a strong story.

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    • Thanks, Beem. Even though I edit for a living, I still have someone else edit my work. But I do several passes (initial revisions, macro-level, mid-level, and micro-level) before sending it on. The cleaner the copy we manage to send an editor, the better the edit we’ll get back. Your work is pristine, so I know you put the effort in before passing it on.

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  3. A great post, Staci 🙂 You covered all the important elements to search for in those editing reads. A great list to keep handy during the process to check each one off.

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  4. Whoa! That’s a lot to think about. My brain can’t hold all those points at one time. Probably why you recommend two read-throughs, but I think we all subconsciously look for all of them when we edit. At least, we notice when they’re not working. I hope:)

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  5. Wow, Staci! Great post, and exactly what I needed right now! I’ve had two different stories on hold for weeks, and am really trying to re-engage my writing brain so I can finish them. This type of thing is exactly what I need to do to pull me back into my work, and help me be certain what I’ve already written is solid and worth continuing on. I love the list, and the way you’ve explained each step. (Will definitely be using it before I submit either story to my wonderful editor! 😁)

    Thanks for a post that not only teaches me something, but INSPIRES me to start typing again! 😀 ❤

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  6. Thanks for this great checklist, Staci. Like John, I discovered the benefit of using the MS read-aloud option for a read-through. It’s a great way to catch things that don’t flow or fit. I’m saving this for later reference. Great stuff!

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  7. Great checklist, Staci. I have found the “read aloud” feature on MS word to be very helpful in that macro view of the book. Of course after that one is on their own until it is editor time. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

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  8. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 10: Macro-Level Self-Editing | Jeanne Owens, author

  9. This is an excellent, practical and timely post, Staci! I’ve reached this stage with my WIP and you’ve provided a truly useful checklist. Many thanks! ♥♥

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