Efficient Editing

Here are the most common types of fiction editing. Completing your edits in this order ensures the most efficient editing experience—why do copyedits of a scene that may end up being cut anyway?

STAGE 1: Developmental Editing

Focuses on overall structure, plot, characters, pacing, and themes. This stage can include significant revisions, reorganization, or rewriting to improve the overall quality of the work.

STAGE 2: Line Editing

Sentence level edits to improve the flow of the prose, check for consistency in tone and style, and do a first pass at addressing issues with grammar and language use

STAGE 3: Copy Editing

Focuses on technical aspects of the manuscript, like correcting grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting errors, as well as checking for consistency in spelling, capitalization, etc.

STAGE 4: Proofreading

The final stage of editing before publication. This involves carefully reviewing the manuscript to catch any remaining errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, or formatting, or typos

Where to start?

The following will take you from big-picture questions to narrower scene-level concerns.


Story is the narrative as a whole. It answers who, why, and how. It’s how the readers are influenced, and includes dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. Your story may have multiple plots. Story is what your book is really about.

1.       Is there a clear protagonist with:

o   an external story goal (the mission)

o   an internal goal (what they really want)

o    compelling stakes

o   conflict – some reason it will be hard for them to achieve the story goal

2.       What drives your protagonist? What is their fatal flaw? How will they overcome it? What is their growth arc?

3.       What is your story’s theme (or point, message, or lesson—it can sound like a bumper sticker)

A note on multiple POV characters or protagonists:

There is debate on whether a novel can have more than one protagonist. The protagonist is a main character who pursues the story goal and has the most to win or lose. They may not be the point of view character. Though most stories have a single protagonist, stories can have a combined protagonist (multiple POV characters who all have the same internal and external goal) or be an entity (the protagonist is a group, world, or society – e.g., Game of Thrones).


Plot is what happens. It is a series of events regardless of their order; once there is a plot, you can start working on structure. Plot answers what, when, and where. Structure is the strategic sequence of events that elicits reader emotion.

Can you pinpoint the story arc scenes? Are they in the right place? Is the protagonist in each scene? Do they have higher word counts than nearby scenes?

There are many story structures out there. Here is the broadest – the 3-act structure:

·         Inciting incident: the moment the protagonist’s world changes in a dramatic way, giving them a goal or motive they simply can’t ignore (before the 10% mark)

·         Plot point 1: Death of Act 1; the protagonist accepts the story goal. the point of no return. The character can't back out of the central conflict. The character's desire to engage with it overrules all else (25% point)

·         Middle plot point: the protagonist learns the rules of the game and goes from reactive to proactive in addressing the story goal (50%)

·         Plot point 2: Death of Act 2; is a mirror of plot point 1; the protagonist fails to answer the story goal and must change mentally. Some writers call this ‘hitting rock bottom’ or ‘the dark night of the soul’ and it marks a turning point in the story. After this, it’s a rush to the climax (75%)

·         Climax: the protagonist answers the story goal that was asked in the inciting incident. the highest level of conflict, the greatest tension, or the most devastating emotional upheaval.  The protagonist should face the biggest obstacle in the story and determine their own fate (90%)

·         Resolution - provide the reader with an emotional payoff, tie up some loose ends, show the characters returning to normal life, or reveal the aftermath of the climax (final 10%)


Once you have the story and the structure, it is time to examine each scene. The first step is to see if:

·         Each scene serves a purpose

·         Scene breaks are at appropriate spots - What makes a scene is part art, but typically a scene change happens when there is a change in POV character, setting, time, or scene purpose.

There are various ways to group scenes into chapters:

1.       Theme – the scenes are related to one another; for example, one chapter could have scenes for the main plot and another chapter could have scenes related to a subplot

2.       Point of View – chapters can be organized by POV characters (e.g. Gone Girl)

3.       Break for Impact – something significant has just happened and you want to give the reader a moment to digest. This is also a way to signify that this event is important to the story.

There are three overarching categories by which scenes are evaluated: character, plot, and setting.