Whether you are self-editing an article or book, two intrinsic aspects of it need to be considered. First of all, the art or creativity of it must be addressed. The idea comes, is fleshed out through either facts and arguments for non-fiction, or through characters, plot, and scenes for fiction. But does it flow well? That is where the art comes in. Just as individual paint strokes are not usually seen in artwork, transitions and connections are usually not seen in writing, although if they are not present, the reader is aware something is missing. How did the writer’s argument proceed from A to B or how did the character get from point A to point B? Good editing addresses these factors before the technical aspects are ever considered.
The overall message or story must make sense; to do that, one part must logically flow into the next. In non-fiction especially, making an outline can be helpful. Do the ideas flow naturally with corrorborating facts or are there gaps that need to be filled in? Does the supporting material effectively communicate the message? Are real life examples included to make the piece come alive to readers?
In fiction, picturing the events in your mind as they occur can reveal any missing elements. Of course, you need not take the reader step by step, such as “he went to the door, opened it, and left.” This would be boring to the reader. They can fill in the fact that he went to the door and opened it without your adding those details. Does an event occur in one chapter, which is totally ignored, or worse yet, contradicted in another? Do the scenes flow between chapters? Will the reader be confused at the beginning of a new chapter, not knowing where the characters are?
Another factor in fiction writing is the overall consistency of character and dialogue. Do the words and actions flow from one scene to another? Are they believable for each character? Does a character use a slang word in one chapter but not in another? Are the characters built throughout the chapters so that more is revealed about each one bit by bit until it all makes sense?
Having another editor work through your manuscript improves the likelihood of artistic consistency. After you’ve gone through your material a few times it may become so familiar to you that you can no longer “see” the imperfections.
In Part 2 we will discuss the science of editing and see how it works hand in hand with art to complete a satisfying whole.