Systematic Editing

by Jann W. Martin

I was at the Word Weavers Fall Retreat recently. I was in an invaluable workshop. My friend, and one of my editors, Kristen Stieffel, led the workshop. I have attended several of her workshops over the years. This one was her best so far.

Kristen is in the process of writing a book for writers. “Systematic Editing How to Revise Your Novel like a Pro,” It gives a break-down on how to edit a fictional novel.

She is a professional editor that wants to share with writers how to edit their own books before turning them over to their editors. In this way as writers we can have our manuscripts as clean as possible before we have to pay for the editing.

In her handout she shares the different types of editing.

  1. Developmental – Structural issues of character and plot
  2. Substantive – concept and intended use, content, organization, design, and style
  3. Line editing – focuses on the way you use language to communicate your story to the reader
  4. Copyediting – checking its consistency and accuracy
  5. Proofreading – correction of remaining errors and layout issues after page designer setup

In fiction there are two sections for a checklist as you edit.


Primary Elements                          Secondary Elements

Character                                             Dialog

Viewpoint                                           Description

Plot                                                      Voice

Structure                                             Mechanics


In nonfiction there are five main elements.

  1. Personality – or character, who’s story is it?
  2. Presentation – the plot, what’s happening?
  3. Voice – use your natural speaking voice, polish it up some.
  4. Information – Do your research then check it again.
  5. Mechanics – Grammar, Usage, Spelling, and Punctuation

Once you are done with your first draft put it away for at least a week. Let your mind take a break from this manuscript. Then do a quick read through, if possible, do this on something other than what you wrote it on. Maybe a Kindle, notebook, or laptop if you generally use a PC. Also, reading it in a different setting can help you to get a clearer picture of your manuscript.

Use the above guides for each time you edit your piece. Go through one at a time looking only for one element in that pass through. You can use a book map to help make sure the structure is all in order for another read through.

Use these steps to help your baby look its best. Make sure you don’t keep editing for editing sake. At some point you have to let it go and ship it to your editor or publisher.

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