When you look at it all at once, the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist can be daunting. And as writers, we tend to waver between thinking we’re literary geniuses and thinking we’re hack poseurs no one will ever take seriously.
The danger in self-editing is that you fall too severely on one side or the other. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul warns against this.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.—Romans 12:3
To think of ourselves—and by extension, our writing—with sober judgment, we must guard not only against thinking too highly of ourselves, but also against thinking too poorly of ourselves. That applies as much to our writing as to any other aspect of life.
Don’t get too hung up on this checklist. It’s meant to offer a set of guidelines based on my experiences and those of the people who trained me up. It is not a set of hard and fast rules. If you get too tied up by the list, you risk being trapped by analysis paralysis instead of moving forward. The checklist is meant to be a road map, not a road block.
Ideally, you can go down this list and tick off every box. But if not, don’t agonize over it. This series of posts is meant to offer guidance for fixing the most common errors editors see in new writers’ manuscripts. Nevertheless, many of these qualities are subjective and hard to quantify.
Let’s take an example: How do you know whether your heroine is funny or irritating? You have to trust your instinct and your voice. I know plenty of people who love Donna Noble, including me, and others who hate her. You can get some feedback from critique partners and beta readers, even (ahem) a professional editor. But ultimately it’s up to you to decide what kind of people your characters will be, and how they will demonstrate those qualities to the readers.
You can psychoanalyze your characters, write their biographies, even give them a Myers-Briggs style temperament quiz. But eventually, you need to stop the analysis and get back to the editing. Trust your literary skill, and tell that voice in your head that calls you a hack to shut up.
We have to have sober judgment about our characters, too. Which only makes sense, because they are part of us.