Self-Editing Checklist for Fiction Writers Part I: Macro Issues

Self-Editing ChecklistWhether you plan to self-publish or try for a traditional publishing contract, your post-writing/prepublication steps should be the same:

  1. Pat yourself on the back for completing your manuscript, and then put it away for a few weeks.
  2. Once you’re ready to begin self editing, review your outline (if you have one) to refresh your memory about your original plans; this step will help you remember, for example, that the character who was originally named “Mary” was later changed to “Marie,” so you can do a search to be sure they were all changed. It will also help you if (when!) you begin moving chapters around.
  3. Run a spell-checker and grammar checker. Be careful, though—don’t automatically assume the computer software will catch all your mistakes. Here’s a fun example of correctly spelled words that prove the point:

I have a spelling chequer,

It came with my pea sea,

It plainly marks four my revue,

Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

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Now it’s time to begin going through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. For most writers, moving from macro to micro works best, but if you’re easily distracted by minutia, you might want to reverse the process.

I’ll cover micro issues in another post. Macro issues include big-picture concepts, like how the characters develop over the course of the story and whether or not the story arc works; micro issues include sentence structure and word choices.

When checking a manuscript for macro issues, here are some points to consider:

When checking a manuscript for macro issues, here are some points to consider: #amediting #editingtip #writers Click To Tweet

  • Characters: Are all your characters necessary to your story? Once you determine that they are, ask yourself if they are believable characters with unique personalities. Do their thoughts, actions, and dialogue help move your story forward, or can some be eliminated or combined? Do your characters’ relationships grow and change as the story progresses? Can your readers identify the characters’ motivations?
  • Whose problem is it? As The Palace of Awesome Stories writes, “Make sure that your protagonist remains the chief actor in the story and doesn’t become solely the reactor to another character’s influence. Sometimes, in longer pieces, characters other than your lead can nab your attention and your imagination; this can be especially true of villains and comic sidekicks. Be careful that these characters don’t become so charming that they threaten to steal the book from your hero or heroine.”
  • World Creation: If you’ve created a fictional world, are your characters’ actions and motivations consistent within that world?
  • Point of View: Does your chosen point of view work? Would your story be more compelling if written in a different POV? Have you switched point of view within a scene?
  • Flashbacks: If you’ve included flashbacks, are they appropriate for conveying the information? Is there a better way to share the same information with the reader?
  • Conflict: No matter how beautifully written the prose, readers will start snoring if there isn’t enough conflict to keep their attention.
  • Pacing: Does your story move at the right pace? In other words, are some chapters action-packed while others are filled with description and little or no action?
  • Plot: Be alert for plot holes. Keep track of your plots and subplots. And above all, give the reader a reason to care about the protagonist’s journey. Every scene should in some way relate to your plot.
  • Information: Be aware of information dumps. If a scene doesn’t advance your story in some way, consider deleting it. Spread out background information to educate and entertain at the same time.
  • Where does the story really begin? Again, from The Palace of Awesome Stories: “Reread the first two to three pages of your story carefully. Where does the action start? A major fault with many first drafts [. . .] is too much background material at the beginning, before the conflict is introduced and the characters finally take over the story.”

What other macro issues do you consider when self-editing?

Macro edits are revisions: they involve major changes in the way the story is told. Once you’ve completed these revisions, and you can’t find additional ways to improve the manuscript yet you still feel something isn’t working, consider hiring a professional editor for a manuscript evaluation. For considerably less money than the price of a full copyedit, you’ll receive an assessment of your work and a diagnostic tool that pinpoints specific strengths as well as weaknesses you can fix to improve your manuscript.

Happy Writing and Editing!


Image courtesy of digitalart at

If you enjoyed reading this and want to improve your ability to self-edit and revise your work, please subscribe by entering your email address on the right side of this page. And please know that I’ll never sell, share, or rent your contact information—that’s a promise!

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Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be.

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19 thoughts on “Self-Editing Checklist for Fiction Writers Part I: Macro Issues”

  1. This is a really useful list, thank you. I try and do everything all at once when I’m editing and, as a result, often find the first half is much more polished than the second half (as I start at the beginning each time).
    Many people have recommended Scrivener, so I can work on a scene at a time and move them around easily, but I admit I couldn’t get on with it. I’d probably do better with a giant piece of paper and some post-it-notes! 🙂

    1. I actually know of authors who use the Post-It notes method; I think you have to use what works for you. I know what you mean about trying to do it all at once, so you might try just reading through first without making any changes, but taking some notes before you start revisions. (Ooooo, another excuse to buy new Post-Its!)

  2. I agree, a fantastic list, thankyou! I have definitely learnt not to trust the ‘pea sea’ spell check, as it corrects things that should be left and misses things that should be corrected! Even though it is painful to go through every page with a fine tooth comb, ultimately it’s worth it.

  3. This is a terrific list, Candace! I just printed it for future reference. One thing I’ll look for while editing are vague words. When I’m working on the first draft, I’m often writing fast. I’ll use car, for example, but I’ll change it to Toyota Camry when I edit. I’ll change flowers to tulips. I think it helps to paint a more vivid picture.

  4. I think you made an important distinction at the end of your post when you suggested that macro editing is really revision. To my mind, revision is a process that’s necessary to complete a novel, whereas editing is preparation to publish. Before an editor ever sees the manuscript, the author should use your macro list to get her book into the best shape she can!

    1. You are so right, Kevin, and that’s a great way to put it. And not only is the manuscript in the best shape possible after revising and self-editing, but the expense for copyediting is substantially reduced, too. Stay tuned for my “micro list” soon!

  5. Just a little note to say:
    This is just what I needed. You’re my favourite blogger today. 🙂

      1. I figured as much. Its exactly what I was hoping for, and also reassures me that I’m on the right track in my own approach. It’s a brill list and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s post too. These will be favourited, printed and constantly re-read in my efforts to revise and polish my novel.
        I refer to my previous comment…fave blogger of the day. X

  6. I liked this bit:

    “Make sure that your protagonist remains the chief actor in the story and doesn’t become solely the reactor to another character’s influence.”

    I think my writing is pretty strong regarding the other points you made, but I can look back at my past work and see where I’ve been guilty of the above.

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