Writing from Life Symbolism and Motif in Your Writing



Mid-Autumn 2015

Ask ten writers to describe their editing methods and

you’ll get ten different answers.

No one way is right. And no way is necessarily wrong.

Whatever your method, get the basics right and do

things in the right order. There’s no point polishing your

language if the structure is falling down in places. Never

polish a mess. Fix it first.

There are three stages or levels of editing.

1. Substantive editing: This covers every aspect of the

overall structure – plot development, character portrayal,

point of view, arrangement of scenes.

2. Line editing: This looks at style and continuity – consistency,

choice of words, sentence construction.

3. Copyediting: This covers nuts and bolts details such

as spelling and punctuation.


Doing things in the right order

The three-tiered approach to editing works. Begin by

fixing the overall structure of your story or novel.

Scenes, characters, pacing, viewpoint and setting all

need to be as strong and well crafted as possible. Once

the bones are right, and only then, work through the

layers of details and language. There’s no point doing it

the other way around. You’ll only double your workload.

When you make basic changes it affects the whole

work. For example, you may be putting the finishing

touches by checking commas and notice a disproportionate

amount of dialogue in some scenes. Once

you’ve made this kind of change you’re back to square


Substantive editing – Fixing the overall structure


Is it clear who the main character is (particularly if you

use multiple viewpoints)? What their purpose or goal is?

Do they face enough challenges?

Do you know your characters well enough?

Are there any clichéd characters? Can original touches

be added to round out any of the characters?

How are characters introduced? Try to show them in

action rather than tell us who they are.

Do you describe the characters – or let their actions

speak for themselves? Do you say someone is angry or

show them throwing a plate?

Do you introduce too many characters at once?

Are characters’ names well chosen?

Do several characters have names beginning with

the same initial?

Too many hyphenated names can become confusing.

Names that are universally plain can be a problem too.

Names that weren’t used in that particular era can

be confusing.

There’s no need to name every single character.

Omit names for ones who aren’t important to the plot.

Does every character earn their place in the story?

Is there a character who could be omitted without

detracting from the story?

Could two characters be amalgamated into one without

losing anything?

Does any character demand a stronger role?

Would adding a new character strengthen the novel/

story? Perhaps a confidante for your hero or heroine?

What’s at stake for your characters? Are they in danger

of losing something that matters to them?

Does every character want something?

Do the needs/wants of the main characters shape

the plot?

Is there enough conflict?

Does your main character change by the end of the

story? Have they evolved as a person?

Do we care enough about the characters? Are they

interesting enough?


Does your story have a definite beginning, middle and


Is there a subplot?

Does the story open with a strong hook? Does each

chapter end with a hook?

Would the story be stronger if the first scene were


Are scenes presented in the right order? Could more

conflict/ tension be created by rearranging them?

Can any scenes be omitted?

Is groundwork laid for later plot developments?

Is back-story woven in seamlessly? Are there info

dumps? Could these details vital be conveyed in other

ways such as dialogue or interior monologue?

Do characters disappear from too many consecutive

scenes? If you’re writing a romance, the hero and


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