Never send your piece off to a publication after your first edit. Nothing is ever perfect, even if it seems to be. Let it rest. Come back later. Hours, days. Even a week or two if that’s what your schedule dictates. Make sure what you write is reflecting your best effort.
Maybe you did a second edit. Changed a paragraph or two. For some of you, there won’t be a need past the third one. But for others, it’s not until your third or fifth read that you finally notice awkward dialogue, actions that are not in line with your character, turns in the story that you really didn’t mean to take but you took anyway.
This is where the real editing starts.
Now, we are talking about full length stories. Novels. Not a short story, although you can take missteps with those as well. It’s much easier to miss something that has 200+ single-spaced pages than a 1,500 word contest entry.
What do you check for this time around?
More grammatical errors. That’s a given. There’s usually one too many semi-colons somewhere.
Tense. Did I move from first person to second person? Did I say, “She couldn’t stand the suspense anymore!” then “Your friend showed up at three.”
Is the story moving forward? You may have thought it was moving forward when you first started, but sometimes you wind up talking about your character’s friendships from childhood and the time he went to the store and stole a candy bar and today there was a candy bar on his co-worker’s desk that looked just like the one he stole. Great prose, great insight, but it has nothing to do with his daughter bringing her fiancé to dinner.
Did you explain motivations, reasonings clear enough? Not everything has to be explained. Sometimes it’s better if the reader is left wondering. But eventually give the reader a hint, a nudge, or a full-blown explanation so they can decide for themselves the reason your story goes the way it does.
Does the dialogue flow between speakers? Are your characters reacting to the other’s conversation? Do they always have to respond in words? Can a gesture, a thought, a groan, be enough of a response? Mix it up. Are your characters listening to each other? Nothing is worse than two people talking about two totally different things.
Make sure every sentence moves the story along. You can linger with a sentence or two when your characters are musing this or that, wondering, looking back, planning for the future. You can even spend a whole chapter looking back or wondering. But don’t let your character babble endlessly about … nothing.
Am I consistent with information? I have written September in Chapter 2 and October in Chapter 11. I have changed the name of my character’s best friend. I have silver riding saucers in one part and made them blue later on. See what I mean? It’s so easy to make a little slip here and there. You think no one will notice. But they will.
Flash back only if it will mean something in the future. Fantasize about the future only if it affects the character. I’m not telling you to skip the backgrounds and side movements – we all love to see how the characters develop through the years. But we don’t want to read about side trips that, in the end, have nothing to do with the main story.
Is the storyline believable? This still holds true in your final readthrough. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about blue trees or Victorian morals that are out of place in today’s society or today’s high school student. It doesn’t matter what you write, except you have to make it believable. If someone levitates let them levitate. If you are confident of the storyline, the levitation will seem a real possibility. Don’t go faster than the speed of light during the Renaissance; keep it in the future where all things are possible. Ride horses to and from town; don’t let a car pass you unless it’s 1916 or later. It makes no difference if your book is historical, science fiction, romance, or mystery. People want to read stories that are consistent with the times.
People’s names. Last check. Making up names is just fine; try to make sure they are easy to read and/or pronounce. Especially for your first book. Having your main character named Denaytrison is impossible to both read and pronounce, which will definitely mess with the flow. When talking to each other, it’s alright to say the other’s name in conversation. But once maybe. Not every other sentence. Write as you speak.
Do I need all these chapters? When you first start writing you add everything you can think of. Your first edit you drop paragraphs and chapters that really don’t move the story forward. Make a final check to see if all your chapters are needed. It will be important towards your final word count.
Maybe you won’t make as many slips as I have. But no matter if you are new to the game or a seasoned pro, you need clean copy.