Using editorial checklists

A couple of weeks ago, I turned off notifications for one of my accounts. Then the other day I wondered why I wasn’t getting notifications. Was no one responding? I couldn’t figure it out. Then I investigated and I realized that people were responding, I just wasn’t getting notifications because I had turned the notifications off.

You’d think I could remember a thing like that! I had to make a deliberate effort to turn the notifications off. I even had to do some sleuthing to find out how. Yet two weeks later I couldn’t remember that I’d done so.

I’m not an especially forgetful person but I do forget things. We all do. That’s one of the reasons I’m so fond of checklists, even for tasks I do frequently. Another reason is that a few years ago I read Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, and it presented compelling evidence that following checklists has a tremendous impact on reducing error.

I use a checklist for developmental editing, even though I have edited so many manuscripts I have lost count. I start with my standard template (posted below) and customize it for each ms, depending on what the author has asked for in the edit, and any issues I’m already aware of (perhaps because of the brief review I do before offering a project quote).

__overall pacing and tension

              __no loose plot threads

              __subplots feed into main plot

              __plot events are clear/understandable

              __logical sequence of plot events

              __plot is plausible/believable

              __action sequences are not confusing


              __characters have motivations for the things they do           

              __characters have arcs—they start at one place and end at another

              __character continuity

—characters sound/act/think differently from each other

              __appropriate number of characters

__appropriate number of POV characters; POV characters are the right ones

__POV is handled appropriately

__clearly rendered setting

__historical/specialized vocabulary or facts that needed checking  (list):

__accuracy within time period and setting

__continuity issues (timeline, repetition, consistency of character actions, descriptions, etc.)

__appropriateness of story (and scenes) to intended audience

(for line editing, when appropriate):

__awkward, lengthy, or confusing sentence structure that requires polishing

__tightening (trimming filtered feelings; superfluous action; repetition)

__dialogue that seems wooden, off, or anachronistic; dialogue tags misused

I also have a checklist for my process from first read-through to final review. Even if you’re sure you’re not missing anything, using checklists can help reduce some of the mental stress of editing.

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