A Checklist for a Good EditorbySelena_Kitt©
As an editor, establishing a good editing relationship with the author is of primary concern. Without trust between you, editing is going to be a disaster. The author needs to know you're interested only in making their work shine, not changing their voice, style or story. When an author knows this, they will be much more likely to accept suggestions and changes. So work hard at making your author(s) understand this and give them plenty of reason to trust you with their "babies."
1. Grammar, spelling and punctuation are paramount. If you're not sure, check it out. So if you have problems with lay and lie, its and it's, affect and effect, make sure you look it up. There are plenty of online dictionaries and places to check punctuation and spelling. Bookmark your favorites and keep them handy while you're editing. And when you change something, remember to educate your author as to why you're making the change. If you make an author aware of the difference between you're and your, they will be less likely to make the mistake again, and you (or another fellow editor) will have less to correct in their work in the future.
2. Watch for awkward phrases and unclear ideas. If it doesn't make sense to you, it's not going to make sense to the reader. Have the author clarify or rephrase.
3. "God" does not have to be capitalized if it does not refer to the actual deity. So "Oh my god that feels good!" would be acceptable. However, it would be, "I prayed to God that he would get better."
4. Purge the words "just" and "that" as much as possible. They are often unneeded. For example, in the previous sentence, the word "that" is unnecessary. It should read, "I prayed to God he would get better." However, the "that" in the former sentence, "Oh my god that feels good!" is necessary. Smoothness/readability is the most important guide here.
5. Here's a short list of words you should probably purge as much as possible from most works: a bit, about, a little, actually, almost, already, appears, approximately, basically, close to, even, exactly, fairly, finally, just, kind of, mostly, nearly, now, pretty, quite, rather, really, seemed, seems, simply, slightly, somehow, somewhat, sort of, suddenly, truly, utterly, very
6. Minimize the use of "And" and "But" to start sentences, unless it has a dramatic use in the scene.
7. A scene break should not occur if the action is still contained within the same time frame and location -- unless it's being used to indicate a point-of-view switch.
8. Highlight repeated words and have your authors choose alternates if you find them often repeating the same word throughout the mss. Also, avoid repeating words within sentences, paragraphs, or even succeeding paragraphs. Please be consistent in your highlighting, however, and explain your system clearly to your authors. (For example, one of our editors uses green highlights for repetitions and redundancies, yellow highlights for important changes, blue highlights for drawing attention to something that should be changed, etc.)
9. Correct passive voice, especially past progressive voice, as much as possible. "She was sleeping peacefully" should be "She slept peacefully". Active voice gives a reader a more immediate sense of what's happening. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but a general one, and I admit, a trendy one in the current market. Passive voice can be effective. Use your best judgment.
10. Measurements and numbers should be spelled out—pounds for lbs, ounces for oz, two for 2, etc. The exceptions to this are years: 1970 is better than nineteen seventy, and time indicators should be a.m. and p.m. (not capitalized) with a space between the time and the indicator: 2:00 p.m. This should, however, be a last resort. Try to rephrase to make it "two in the afternoon" or something like that.
11. Stephen King said the road to hell is paved with adverbs. Eliminate those --ly words as much as possible: beautifully, sexily, whinily. Ugh. Verbs and actions are always better to convey meaning. Adverbs are an emphasis technique and can easily be abused. A few adverbs here and there are fine, but if your author is an adverbaholic, it's time for a little AA -- Adverbs Anonymous. Highlight all the adverbs in the mss to give your author an indication of how many they're using and ask them to rephrase.
12. "Show don't tell" has become the mantra for fiction writers everywhere, and it's generally a good rule, but like most rules, it can be broken by a good writer. For the most part, though, showing is better than telling. It moves the story along, gives the reader a sense of the characters, and also allows them the feeling of being "in" the story. If you find an author doing too much "telling," ask them to rewrite to describe the action of the characters, use dialogue, etc. But remember, telling is sometimes appropriate, especially in instances where time is of the essence.
13. Dialogue should be punctuated like this, "I don't have it," she said. Double quotes, with a comma before the last quote if a speaker tag is used. A period is used only if an action tag is used instead. "I don't have it." She hid her hands behind her back, averting her eyes. In fact, using the generic, indescriptive verb "said" should be minimized. Action tags are usually preferred over speaker tags, and adverbs should be avoided as much as possible in speaker tags, i.e. "she said angrily."
14. Avoid repetition of punctuation, even if it's being used for dramatic effect. So, "Oh my god!!!!!!!" should be just "Oh my god!" and "What was she thinking!?!?" should be "What was she thinking?" Also avoid all-caps, bold or underline. Use italics for thoughts or emphasis. And if you use ellipses (which should be used sparingly) there should be no spaces before or after. So, "Please...don't!" would be correct.
15. The em dash has mostly replaced the colon and semi-colon in modern fiction—seen here. Like ellipses, dashes have no space on either side if they are inside a sentence. Also, em dashes are used for interruptions of speech or thought, not ellipses (which are only used for dramatic pauses and unfinished thoughts).
16. As an editor, keep an eye out for everything that doesn't relate to the advancement of the plot. In most cases, suggest removing the extraneous sections, or at least, reworking them to enhance the story rather than distract from it.
17. It's acceptable to have multiple points-of-view (POV) within a book or story, but eliminate all instances of switching POV's (head-hopping) within the same scene. It's too confusing to have characters going back and forth every other paragraph. Each scene should be from one character's point of view.
18. Watch out for illogical/missing story flows, incomplete world building, inconsistency of facts and details, lack of character development, holes in character motives, forced endings, etc.
19. Check accuracy of facts, libelous materials, plagiarism of published works (even if it's the author's own previous work), watch for anachronisms (i.e. pay telephone in WWII), and check the internal clock of the manuscript (chronological events and the time on which the novel is running). Also, especially in sex scenes, please make sure characters don't defy the laws of physics!
20. Contractions shouldn't be avoided. In dialogue especially, they're preferred. Unless the style is purposely formal, the use of common contractions will make the prose flow more easily.
21. If an author uses a word you don't know -- look it up. Make sure it's used correctly. But there's no need to change it.
22. The word "come," in erotic fiction, is used as a verb, as in, "Oh, I'm coming!" and the word "cum" should be used as a noun, as in, "She swallowed his cum."
23. The word is all right, not alright.
The best course of action when editing is to suggest changes and allow the writer the leeway to make them or not. Aside from the grammar, spelling and punctuation, which should be set in stone (unless the author is using European spellings in a European-based story -- then it's just set in a different stone!) the author should have final say in what they will or will not change.