Preparing your manuscript for editing

Preparing your Manuscript for Editing Workshop

This the outline I used for a workshop to help prepare writers to make the most effective use out of an editorl

What is editing?

  • Content/Structural Editing
    • Foundational issues: Plot, character, tone, structure, world building
  • Copy/Line Editing
    • Prose, sentences, paragraphs, pacing. Word use and over use.
  • Proofreading
    • Grammar and spelling


Foundational Self Edit

  • Using an outline as an editing tool.
    • Lots of people will talk about writing with an outline, but they can be great tools for editing. If you aren’t sure about your structure and arcs, putting the bones down in an outline will help you check things, and balance the space between major points.
  • How technical with story structure do you need to get?
    • There are countless books and blogs dedicated to story structure, KM Weiland’s Helping Writers become Authors is one of the best with lots of examples.
    • If you are an outliner, you’ll want to mark the major points of your plot arc and character arcs so you have that going from the start.
    • Don’t get focused on structure to the detriment of your story. I’ve seen people warp their story trying to make it fit a structure they’ve read about. The story needs to come first. If you work on telling the story well, most of the structure will take care of itself.
  • Are your characters well rounded, heroes with flaws, villains with good sides?
    • Another popular tool for writers is character sheets where we fill out their favourite colour and what they like in their coffee. The problem is once we have that information, we want to include it all. What is important is what makes your characters human. Does your hero make mistakes, get angry, hurt people? Why not? Perfect characters are boring. Ones who struggle internally as well as externally will hold the reader’s attention. The same is true of villains. Too many times the villain is all bad, which makes it easy to cheer for their downfall, but doesn’t add much tension to the narrative. Make your villain a hero with an opposing goal to the MC’s and you have a gripping story.
  • Does everyone have sufficient motivation for their actions?
    • I say everyone, but most important is the villain’s motivation. Why are they opposing the hero? What will they get out of it? I read somewhere there are several classes of villain. The greedy villain, the power-hungry villain, the insane villain, and the scariest, the saintly villain.
    • Knowing the motivation doesn’t mean explaining it, but letting it come out in action and dialogue.

Copy Self Edit

  • Does each scene have its own internal structure?
    • Just as stories have a three act structure, your scenes should begin somewhere, move through some conflict to a resolution.
  • Do fights/love scenes/chases etc have their own plot?
    • Like scenes, these events need their own structure. Also each fight etc needs to increase the stakes leading up to the finale.
  • Does each scene move the story forward?
    • If a scene doesn’t move the plot or character forward. Rewrite it or chuck it.
  • Pacing with paragraph and sentence length.
    • Pacing is important. The length of chapter, paragraph, sentence will either speed up or slow down the story.
  • Beats vs Speech tags
    • Do your dialogues become talking heads? If a reader were to read only the dialogue scene, would they know about the setting, mood, etc?
    • Beats are snippets of description or action or thought which highlight and enhance the words being spoken.


Using Search to look for overused words.

  • Control F is one of your best friends. It will help you find out that you’ve used ‘really’ 149 times in your book. Make a list of the most commonly over used words: just, only, that, really, actually, was, were

Using grammar programs

  • There are a number of grammar programs out there, from the grammar checker in Word to Grammarly to They have their place, but like spellcheckers, they don’t replace careful reading. What they can do is point out where you have too many pronoun starts, or consecutive sentences which start with the same word. They will help with the overused words and to a greater or lesser extent with sentence structure and length. All of them have free versions and they are worth trying.


  • Reading out loud.
  • Reading backwards.

Why you still may want to hire an editor.

  • After all this work, why hire an editor?
    • Editors aren’t attached to the story, so they will see things you miss. They may also spot your habits and point them out so you are aware of them.
    • Editors will know story structure and point out where it needs work, and how you might fix the problems
    • Editors are enthralled by darlings.
    • Working with an editor will make you a better writer.


How to hire and editor and work with them.

  • Just as there are publishers who are scams, there are editors who will take your money and give little or nothing back.
  • Not every editor is the same. You need to be able to work with this person and trust their advice.
  • Get a test edit, preferably get several editors to do test edits on the same section of work. I prefer the first 5k (which is a huge test edit but I have my reasons). This test edit should be free and no obligation. Read through all the comments and pick the person who is going to grow your story. I’ve had more than one client tell me they picked me because I made them cry. Not that I was mean, but I saw so much more in the story than the people who told them everything was brilliant.
  • Negotiate a schedule and process. If you have deadlines, tell your editor up front.
  • Ask questions, argue. The editor is not always right. This is your book, and in the end, you decide. The editor should be able to adjust their work to fit your vision of the book. You want your book, only refined, not your book the way the editor would write it.
  • Pay for the work. This person is taking hours of their time to work through your book. They deserve to be paid on time and without griping. If they are too expensive, you are better to find someone else than try to talk them down.



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Posted by: Alex McGilvery On

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