Clean Up On Aisle Twelve: A final draft editing checklist

In the writing studio, things are getting exciting! I’m nearing the end of the first-ish draft of a novel. Honestly, it should have been finished months ago, but yeah, things like a wedding, back strain, home and garden, etc. got in the way. Plus, when is a novel really finished?

Wrapping up another novel in the Word Crone Studio…

So this next phase of the process got me thinking about all of the bits and bobs that go into the final round of edits. I recall when I wrote my first book, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and one of the things I didn’t know, was what to look for in the final edits of a book. At the risk of dating myself, there was no internet, no search engines to make researching a topic quick and relatively painless. I had to make this up on my own, and the hardest part was the uncertainty of it all. So here, for your use, is my final draft editing checklist.

[Side note: the one thing you won’t see on my list is, “hand it off to a friend.” Please, friends don’t ask friends to do their work for them. Most of this stuff, you can catch on your own. Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, it’s mind and ass numbingly dull. So why would you ask a friend to do it for you? It’s your job. And there are people called editors who do this for a living, and they are worth their weight in gold. It’s your job to make the copy as clean as possible before you pass it along to an editor.]

So without further delay…

My Non-Exhaustive Final Edits Check-List:

  • Spelling and grammar, of course. I use Grammarly and it is truly necessary. I am forever mixing up words that are hyphenated with non-hyphenated words, repeated words, passive words. And I consistently misspell words that I have had corrected for me by editing software over the course of the past dozen books. Still! Also, spell-check does not catch my consistent misspelling of “to the” which I type as “tot he”, every time! So I have to do a search/replace of some repeat offenders.
  • Make a list of all of your characters, their names, ages, and distinguishing features… then make sure you were consistent. Names should begin with different letters of the alphabet just to help your reader. (In this instance, listen to what I say, not what I do. I’m talking about you, KEEPING UP WITH MR. JONES. I thought I could give background characters similar names to show they were background. I get more complaints about the Marions, Marilyns, Marthas… They are truly unimportant individually, interchangeable as characters, but yeah, I get it now. Next time…)
The one with all of the “M” names…
  • Check the scene calendar for consistency. (Scene one, weather is X, day of the month is Y, time is Z.)
  • Did you head hop? That’s when a scene begins in one person’s head – the reader knows what that character knows – then the reader is thrown into a different person’s head, privy to what that character knows.
  • Do your characters behave in a manner consistent with their personalities? i.e., a photographer sees the world through a different lens, so to speak – lights and shadows, foreground and background, those things frame their world. An evangelical sees the world through scripture. A vivisectionist… well, they like their food cut into tiny morsels. Eww.
  • POV – point-of-view. Are you in third person? First? Are you consistent? Is your verb tense consistent? In the WIP (work-in-progress), I’m writing in first person and my character refers to the events they are relaying to the reader in past tense, (It is very recent past, but past.) However, some things are perpetual, thus in present tense. For example, “Don’t get me wrong. I like gardening, (present tense, because the verb occurs in perpetuity, in the past and the present and presumably, in the future) but while I picked up (past) those sticks that were scattered (past) all over the yard, I felt (past) every twinge in my lower back. I guess I am (present) just prone to lower back issues, but it makes (present) gardening a chore.” (Autobiographical. We just had a massive storm.)
The Big Bird’s Nest (storm stick pile) grows…
  • Which brings me to passive voice. “She had been…” Make your words matter by avoiding passive tense (she said, not practicing what she had preached.)
  • Overuse of certain words. I have some that I just use all the time. Just, like, I don’t know, I write like I talk, with just a proliferation of certain words that just get really annoying to a person who doesn’t just throw those same words into their own speech just all the time! (Sorry.)
  • Read it aloud. Yes, the whole freakin’ thing. Close yourself off in the bathroom if you don’t have a door on your office and… Read. It. Out. Loud. You’ll be amazed at what you catch in your own writing, even after staring at those words for the past couple of months.
  • Check your chapter numeration. (I ALWAYS end up with two repeated chapter numbers, usually early on in the manuscript that throws every other chapter number off. Often, I do this several times over the course of the book.
  • Show. Don’t tell.” You can show emotion in the weather, in the character’s stance, and through their actions. You have to be something of a movie director in your writing, able to see the scene, then duplicate it in images. “A picture is worth 10,000 words.”
“The day I died was like any other… except that day, I drank my wife’s disgusting, green, health juice, and fifteen minutes later, my heart seized up, never to start again.” – opening line: FLIPPIN’ THE BYRD, the W-I-P.
  • And my personal biggie: Remove all formatting. In other words, don’t use fancy fonts, nested first letters, fancy little wing-ding page breaks, etc. The copy-editor will thank you. It takes several hours to format a manuscript to make it print-ready. It can take days to make corrections and remove formatting after the fact. Having your manuscript look “print-ready” won’t make your work stand out from that of others. Clean editing will.

I’m sure you’ve got some final edit items I’ve left off of this non-exhaustive little list. Feel free to share those in the comments section, and with your permission, I’ll update the list as it grows.

In the meantime, make some art. Read a book!



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