Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
You’ve finished the writing, the rewriting, the editing and the polishing.
You’ve been through your manuscript front to back and back to front and weeded out and added in.
You’ve straightened out your characters and tightened the plot and you’ve proofed for every conceivable error you’ve ever read about.
Both protagonist and antagonist get what they deserve or what they’ve earned or what your readers will love.
You’ve got conflict and chapter-ending hooks and emotion-evoking phrases.
You’ve got an opening that delights, a middle without sag, and an ending that satisfies.
You’ve got ups and downs and breathing space and breathless action. You’ve included emotional responses for characters that are guaranteed to touch the reader as well.
The number of modifiers—both adverbs and adjectives—doesn’t overwhelm.
Dialogue is strong. Setting is clear and works for the story. Characters are unique. Style is consistent.
You’ve been through your checklist and you’re happy about what you’ve created. Your critique partner says it’s ready, your writer’s group says it’s ready, your heart says it’s ready.
So . . .
What’s next? Is there anything you can do as a final check of your masterpiece before you release it to the world?
Sure. For your final pass, check once more for—
Your favorite words. We all have them and they sneak in despite our desire to keep them out. Can you cut one or two more instances of each?
Your favorite unusual sentence construction. The unusual gets noticed. Don’t overplay those touches that stand out.
The overuse of character names, especially in dialogue. People just don’t call each other by name when they talk to them.
The opening line and opening page. Do they accomplish all that they can? Does the opening set up the story arc, get the plot rolling, introduce your protagonist, introduce tone and/or setting ?
The ending. Does it address the story opening and the character’s problem? Does it finish the several hundred pages that come before it? Is the last line a memorable one?
Words that don’t fit. No okay before its time.
One-time character names. If you’ve changed a character’s name, make sure you’ve not left any instances of the former name.
Space holders. If you use space holders for elements you’re not sure of—asterisks, blank lines, hash tags—be sure to remove them. And be sure you’ve filled in the blanks.
Words used too often. They might not even be favorite words, but their use and overuse can weaken your scenes.
look, looked, looking (one of the most common verbs used for sight)
there (stood there, sat there)
over (walked over, ran over)
felt, heard, saw, watched, thought (you don’t always need to report that a character is doing these things)
Words/phrases that add nothing and might in fact dilute a scene.
at this time
at [in] this moment
in my opinion
any three-word phrase at the end of a sentence (search for prepositional phrases you use often)
try and [verb] (use try to rather than try and)
there is, there are, there were (especially to start sentences and open paragraphs)
oh, well, and oh well (especially in dialogue)
That one scene that niggles at you, the one that still doesn’t seem quite perfect. Yes, make the time for one more try to fix it. If it bothers you, it’s going to bother the reader.
Chapter breaks. Make sure chapters begin on new pages. Make sure chapter numbers are sequential.
Manuscript format. Before submitting, format your manuscript in the proper format. Don’t forget page numbers and the correct info for the headers. Check for consistency with scene breaks—have you used asterisks or hash marks or simple line spacing?
Spelling. Your word processing program might not catch everything, but it catches a lot. If you make any changes, be sure to run spell check one final time. Let this be the final major step of your cleanup. And repeat as many times as necessary if you continue to make changes.
This is not an editing checklist, but a helpful last step before you submit your manuscript to agent or editor. If you’ve not truly edited your manuscript, start with these steps before moving to those listed in this article.
These suggestions are not meant as a tool for procrastination: please don’t hesitate to submit when your story is ready. Do what’s necessary for making both story and manuscript error-free and then let the story go. Start your next project or complete another story you’ve begun. Put an end to this one.
And remember that it’s likely a few errors will slip through even the best proofing. Yet also remember that a few simple errors will not be what keeps your story from being accepted. Submit your manuscripts when it’s time without making yourself crazy looking for phantom errors.
Finish your story.
Send that good story out so others can read it.
Share your good fiction.