Editing A Manuscript

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It’s harder to edit your own story than someone else’s. It’s hard to see where the falter is and the fault lines are. Here is a checklist I use to help me edit my own stories.

An Editing Checklist for a children’s writer

  • Character & Plot
    1. Whose story is this?
    2. Is there a clear, single narrative thread that runs through the story? Simplify at the story level especially for younger readers.
    3. Keep every scene focussed on “what is driving the story?” Where is it all heading? What does the main character want? What is the unconscious goal?
    4. Is there a strong premise?
    5. Is there enough conflict?
  • Story Narrative
    1. Is there a talking head / free floating narration – especially in the beginning?
    2. Does your narrator talk to the reader? If so, is it intended and can you keep it going for the full book?
    3. Imagine a scene. Anchor each scene in time and place.
    4. Stay in the scene – avoid backstory. Keep the story moving forward.
    5. Get to the action quickly – don’t spend a lot of time on background or introduction. Feed that in later.
    6. Don’t be too sparse – add physical descriptions where required.
    7. Check if the entire story reads like a script (and one-liner jokes) and if so, add thoughts, descriptions to build a cohesive narrative. Description must be eloquent and expressive of narrative’s character. I.e. are you seeing it from your narrator’s point of view and are you seeing the things the narrator would see (especially for younger readers)
    8. Don’t shy away from explaining new things / plot points either through a friend or a first-person thought-process. For younger readers, have you explained new concepts? At the same time, as Andrew Stanton said, make the audience work for it – leave some space for the reader’s imagination (Also Stephen King in On Writing).
    9. Don’t shy away from detail – but De-familiarize (as per David Lodge’s Art of Fiction) – look at the detail from the narrator’s unique point of view.
    10. Beware of recapping the plot. But don’t forget to signpost key plot points for younger readers.
  • Language, Semantics and Form
    1. Simplify at the sentence level – one thought in one sentence.
    2. Think before adding LISTS into the story – do you need it?
    3. Are the jokes / language / idioms child-friendly and age-appropriate?
    4. Avoid passive tense.
    5. Look for “TENSE” issues.
    6. Read the text aloud.