This is the final step in the 5-pass read through editing plan. If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series I encourage you to do that. This is about the final read through. You’ve fixed all the issues (hopefully) and this is the last pass.
You can’t skip ahead. There may be early layers that you work through in the planning stage, but confirming the structure underpinning these beginning layers is crucial. If those first layers aren’t solid, the rest is a house of cards. If you don’t have a first draft or are struggling to complete one, this post on fast drafting might help.
Prep Work: Goals
Layer 1: Plot
Layer 2: Scenes and Sequels (Pacing)
Layer 3: (Weakness) Plus Characterization
Layer 4: Emotions
Layer 5: Consistency (you are here)
This is where you read through the entire manuscript in as close to one sitting as possible. I like to print it out for this stage, but you don’t have to. I do because seeing it on paper somehow helps me see things I’ve missed repeatedly on a screen.
I also read it out loud as much as possible. Hearing the story engages a different part of my brain and I can often catch things I’ve missed before. So the point of this layer is to simply make sure there aren’t any consistency errors.
In the previous layers there would have been changes. You’ve maybe moved a scene so you can’t refer to what happened there until later than before. Maybe you removed a character from the story so you need to make sure there’s no mention of them. This is where you catch those little errors that have slipped through.
As I’m reading I do a light proofread. I’m not doing an intense copy edit. I don’t bother doing word by word copy edits for spelling and punctuation until I’m about to hit publish. I just don’t see the point. When you’re constantly editing, getting bogged down by commas and misplaced modifiers is just a waste of time. I’ll watch for spelling, verb tense, pronouns — things that will stand out to me as I’m reading but I don’t sweat about it. If an error slips through to my beta readers they’re almost happy to point it out.
This editing process is for an intermediate level writer. If you are just beginning and maybe you’ve finished the first draft on your very first novel, be aware that I’ve made some assumptions in writing these posts. Mostly, I’ve assumed you understand story structure.
If you’re not familiar with the three act structure, this editing process might not be as helpful as it could be. If you don’t know how to recognize a character being proactive or reactive, this is pretty important. I assume you understand plot and how to create a compelling story arc. Creating characters with compelling story problems is essential.
I don’t get into the how-to’s on any of that but these are absolutely essential building blocks. What this editing process does is construct the interior frame and put up drywall on your story house. If you don’t have a good foundation and sound structure the whole thing will collapse no matter how pretty it is on the inside.
I’ve searched the interwebs for some posts on these basic structural needs. Buy a book or two. Take a class or two and make sure these concepts are really solid in your mind. I see so many writers trying to move from basic to intermediate without understanding these things. They learn to put really pretty lipstick on a pig, not realizing they’re just dressing up a pig.
How To Write Character Arc – Helping Writers Become Authors
Character Arc In A Nutshell – Writers Helping Writers
How To Write A Story Without A Plot (And Why You Shouldn’t) – Helping Writers Become Authors
Story Arc Beat Sheets (Planning/Plotting Helps) – Jami Gold
Reactive and Proactive Characters: Bella vs Buffy
3 Act Structure and the Magical Middle Moment – James Scott Bell
Now – dive deep my scrivener friends! And hey – did you find this series helpful? Did you have questions? I’ve had questions come in from readers as I’ve been doing this series so I’ll be answering those in upcoming blog posts. Have a question, post it below or send me an email! I love mail!
Been told you should learn Deep Point Of View? Had an editor or critique partner tell you to “go deeper” with the emotions in your fiction? Looking for a community of writers seeking to create emotional connections with readers? Check out the Free Resource Hub and then join the Going Deeper With Emotions In Fiction Facebook group.
Naomi Johnson says
Thanks for this Lisa.
I appreciate reading your distinctions about the stages writers may or may not be at, rather than your assuming every reader/writer is going to get something from your knowledge and your piece.
It’s a missed step — clarifying who your piece is, and isn’t for — that happens far too often, including in books written.
But you’ve taken it the extra mile, in serving those who you’ve clarified won’t be ready for this piece yet, by giving all sorts of great suggestions for them to dig into AND made it clear they need to have a good handle on this before moving on to what you’re offering.
That advice alone should serve a lot of fiction writers, and would-be writers, well!
Lisa Hall-Wilson says
Thanks Naomi – glad you enjoyed this post.