Every writer turns into an editor at some point, but finding the weaknesses in your own manuscript challenges any writer. Years ago I developed a visual assessment system to help freelance writers evaluate short nonfiction work quickly and objectively.
This week I’m serving on a panel at Killer Nashville called Be Your Own Editor. I’ve expanded my assessment system into the handout below to help novelists spot problems and begin solving them.
1. Riffle or scroll through your entire manuscript.
If pages look gray, expect poor paragraphing, long descriptions, info dumps.
Watch for long sections with lots of dialogue or long sections with no dialogue.
2. Turn through each chapter.
Do the same visual check as above.
Summarize the chapter’s action in one sentence.
Read the end of each chapter to see if it propels the reader to the next chapter.
Read the opening to see if the reader who put down the book will be lost.
3. Look at each page.
If you see only two or three paragraphs, expect to rewrite.
Check the first word or phrase of each paragraph. Openings should vary.
Look for periods. If most sentences are long or the same length, rewrite.
Read the verbs. If they don’t tell you what happens on that page, rewrite.
4. Look at each paragraph.
If a paragraph is more than ten lines long, it may contain an info dump, etc.
If you have many short paragraphs of dialogue, you may need more tags.
Read the end of one paragraph and the opening of the next to check the flow.
5. Check the sentences.
Be sure the strongest structure (subject-verb-object) dominates.
Rewrite most sentences beginning with it’s or there’s.
If a sentence contains more than three prepositional phrases, rewrite it.
6. Study the words.
Look for excessive to be verbs and modified verbs (watch for ly).
Ferret out verbs hidden in nouns, such as make a decision, give a recommendation, reach a conclusion, do an analysis.
Look again at nouns modified with more than one adjective.
Trace all pronouns back to the intended antecedent.
Check all it’s/its, there’s (are), there/their, your/you’re.
Use your computer to find overused words, such as shrug, nod, just, smile.
7. Read aloud to check sound, rhythm, and pace.