Story Development and Execution Part 11: Mid-Level Self-Editing

Ciao, SEers. Today is part eleven of the series, and we’re continuing with self-editing. We’ve reached the mid-level revision. By now, you should have corrected the biggest issues in your manuscript. It’s time to read it again and look for problems with execution.

Is your dialogue sharp? Are the words you chose appropriate for the speakers? Did you use realistic language? Did you bury dialogue in the middle of a paragraph of exposition, or does it always start or end a paragraph so it doesn’t get lost? Did you use enough attributions (but not too many)?

Have you analyzed your paragraph structure? Is there only one actor per paragraph? Did you head-hop? Is any paragraph suffering from author intrusion?

Have you analyzed your sentence structure? Is your message always clear? Did you vary the sentence style to create a pleasing rhythm? Did you find any awkward structures that need fixing? Is your word choice strong, or did you use weak words and phrases? Did you use active voice wherever possible? Is your tense correct and consistent? Are chronological actions linked by “then” and concurrent actions linked by “and” (in lists)? Can you vary some of the structures to eliminate too many occurrences of those sentence types and words? Did you identify and correct misplaced modifiers? Do your lists of phrases comply with the rules of parallel structure? Have you avoided clichés? Can you make your similes metaphors? Are your comparisons mixed or awkward? Are they appropriate for the character thinking or speaking them?

Have you included the right level of description? Did you get rid of all instances of white-room syndrome? Did you tone down purple prose? Do your descriptions use all the senses, or did you rely too heavily on sight? Are your descriptions in your POV character’s voice? Did you kill any darlings that don’t fit?

Are all your sentences written in the proper tone to establish both character and mood? Did you use contractions for your casual speakers and formal English for stuffier characters? Does your internalization sound like your dialogue, or did your “authorly” voice intrude?

To summarize, work on:

  • Dialogue
  • Paragraph Structure
  • Sentence Structure
  • Descriptions
  • Tone

These were all the mid-level issues to address in your story. Next time, we’ll delve into self-editing on the micro-level. Until then, I’d love to know more about your mid-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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71 thoughts on “Story Development and Execution Part 11: Mid-Level Self-Editing

  1. Pingback: This Week at Story Empire – Joan Hall

  2. Great post (and I was an editor before a writer, though of comics and magazines rather than books) and would advocate all that you say.
    I do have one little worry however: losing the writer’s “voice”. Idiosyncrasies can show the writer as an individual and not one of the herd.
    DBC Pierre, Iain M Banks, Aldous Huxley etc. can rattle on about Esoterics and keep them entertaining. Whilst editing is extremely important, the best editorial partnerships allow the author to still retain an “individualistic” approach whilst restraining their “silly” impulses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ask any of my clients—preserving their voice is my primary concern. I think it would be difficult for authors to self-edit to the point that they lost their own voices. (At least, I’d hate to think they were so ruthless in their revisions.) Great point, Ray.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I’m a writer, too, so I know how important voice is. I once had an editor who changed every sentence in my first chapter, didn’t do more, and told me she made the changes to everything because it didn’t sound like her. I told the publisher I wanted my manuscript back. He fired her and kept my contract. Voice is paramount.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A fantastic post, Staci!! Many of the questions frequent my mind as I write. I do a little editing as I go. I tend to go down rabbit holes so I try to limit myself until after the first draft is complete. If need be, I’ll make myself notes as I go so I don’t forget to return to the issue later.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A great post, Staci. I am methodical in this area. I self-edit as I write. Then, once I’m deep into the project, I go back to the beginning and check my work again. Once I finish the project, I hand it off to my trusted editor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I edit as I go, too. I can’t stand letting things go when I know they’re just lingering there, taunting me. When I’m finished, I do several more polishes before passing it off. And even after all that, I know there are more changes I COULD make if I obsessed over it.

      Thanks for sharing your process, Beem.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I self-edit as I go and look for anything that bothers me and try to fix it. I’m a white room writer. Most of my edits involve adding to the story in some way or tweaking it to make it smoother. I rarely have to cut, and I try to remember the five senses when I edit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My sister has white-room syndrome, too. She’s one of the few editing clients I work with that I end up adding to instead of subtracting from.

      I also edit as I go, Judi. I can’t leave issues unaddressed. But I still do a few passes once I’m done. Thanks for sharing your process.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a lot of questions and things to keep an eye on. My mid-level editing usually requires a few passes, Staci, broken down into chunks. While I’m at it, some macro issues might come to my notice, and I’ll start fixing micro issues as they pop up. It’s great seeing the process broken down into the nitty gritty. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a very helpful series, Staci. Although I tend to self-edit as I go, I realize the need for a complete edit when I finish. I am a white syndrome writer. Even after I add what I believe to be good descriptions, my beta readers let me know, I need more. This is a process that shouldn’t be rushed just to get to print.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. An excellent list of problem areas to look for when editing, Staci. I’m kind of like Audrey in I look for anything and everything each time I do an edit. I also have to let the ms sit for a short period between sweeps. I find going back after a break makes a world of difference in catching problem areas and typos.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 11: Mid-Level Self-Editing | Legends of Windemere

  10. Soooo useful, Staci!. I’m about to go through my latest WIP for what I think will be the last time and this gives me a neat and vital checklist. Others have checked it for different things but I’ve avoided looking at it for a couple of weeks now so that I can read it through with ‘clean’ eyes. If anything ‘jars’ or just sounds ‘bleh’, I have to deal with it. I know there are a couple of places where the conversation bothers me – I don’t know why, but it does and so that’s a sign I need to rework it. This is such a useful series. I’ve bookmarked it! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Any improvements you can make are value-added. Hopefully your editor catches the rest. But (and I speak from experience here) editors do their best work when they get polished manuscripts. Then we can really help the work shine. I know no one wants to hear that, and I know revisions aren’t fun, but this work is necessary.

      I have no doubt your “best efforts” are just fine.

      Thanks, ladies.

      Liked by 1 person

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