One-Page Self-Editing Checklist

Self-Editing Checklist from Red Circle Ink

Let yourself forget the story and come at it cold.
Rewrite the cinematic tagline of your story as you know it now.
Re-read your story as a first-time reader, keeping the revised tagline in mind.

Start with big-picture re-visioning of conflict, character, and cadence:

Conflict evaluation: Is your plot (i.e. stakes and consequences)…

  • Clear
  • Instantly relatable
  • Deeply personal
  • Compellingly dramatized
  • Escalating to a satisfying conclusion

Character evaluation:

  • Core personality (relatable and interesting)
  • Goal, motivation, and conflict
  • Character issue (wound)
  • Fear (holding back, driving forward)
  • Purpose (want vs. need)
  • Growth arc (sequential steps of change)
  • Moments of change (linked to plot)

Cadence evaluation: (pacing)

  • Master scene list with rising tension
  • Break up gray pages
  • Varied and engaging rhythm (of chapters, scenes, paragraphs, sentences, words)

Refine mid-level issues: Do you have clear and compelling…

  • Emotion—Have you moved the reader?
  • Point of view (the characters’ and yours)
  • Worldbuilding (fresh, coherent, and evocative)
  • Setting and timing (continuity)
  • Theme

Polish line-level issues including:

  • Create unique character voices with character-specific imagery
  • Evoke a sensory experience with the full range of senses
  • Limit filter words that put the reader at a distance
  • Leverage power positions (beginnings and ends)
  • Punch up dialogue and internal monologue

Tackle word-level copyediting after everything else is “perfect”

  • Amplify power words—strong verbs, specific nouns, evocative adjectives
  • Avoid clichés
  • Be aware of your darlings

Proofreading: “Last” pass

Change the font. Print it out. Read backward. Read aloud. Have your computer read to you.

The one rule:

Be compelling. The story matters most. All editing serves the flow of story.