Kate’s Editing Checklist

P.s. This is now a page with extra additions – feel free to suggest more if you think of any!

So, after yet another minor rant from me (this one to do with the complete lack of women in a fantasy world), the boys got fed up and suggested that I write out my editing checklist. When I’m playing cliché and let’s-annoy-Kate bingo, what am I actually looking for?

Or, in writing terms: when you’re worldbuilding, what do you need to consider?

The Real World

  • The Narrow Bechdel Test: Two women have a conversation…
  • The Wider Bechdel Test: …about something that isn’t a man.
  • 50/50 world gender split: do you at least have something approaching this, or a good reason why you don’t have it?
  • Are there children mentioned?
  • Are you using ‘mother’ (or ‘father’) as a job description?
  • List all your characters; are certain job types only ascribed to one gender? This applies as much to ‘soldier’ or ‘shopkeeper’ as it does to ‘servant’ and ‘whore’.

The Physical Stuff

  • A woman’s body doesn’t know she’s pregnant until a week after fertilisation. Please don’t put some mystical thing in about ‘feeling’ or ‘just knowing’ the morning after – even with some magical ability you’d be hard-pressed to tell one bunch of cells from another for several days afterwards.
  • Periods happen, for a week, every month. If you’re doing a journey that involves women, they will be concerned about it – and wanting to take a bath fairly urgently when you reach civilisation again. It’s a pretty messy business no matter how carefully you manage it.
  • Period pain. I refuse to believe that everyone up until the modern world had a pain-free time, so there is likely to be a need for painkillers along with your food and supplies.
  • If you’re considering having “one night of fantastic sex that leaves the woman with a child to remember her love by”…yes, it could happen, but it’s pretty statistically unlikely. Please carefully consider if you want that sort of annoying cliché in your book.
  • If you do use rape against any character, please think carefully about why and how you are portraying it.

The Disability Checklist

  • If you’ve previously had wars or fighting, or you have major industry (for example, ship-building or coal-mining) in your world, you’re going to have disabled veterans and workers. How does society treat them?
  • Have you considered the likelihood of invisible illnesses such as PTSD or depression, particularly for characters that have been through a traumatic event?
  • How does your society deal with physical illnesses? This applies as much to infections (for example, leprosy or influenza) and things like cancers as it does to physical disability.

The Evil Guys

  • If you tick more than two things on the Evil Bingo Checklist, please rethink their character.

    Baddy Bingo
    Evil Bingo Checklist
  • Are the Evil Guys given a decent backstory for why they’re Evil? It is just a matter of perspective, after all.
  • Do they have countless hordes of soldiers ? Is so, where did they come from? Why are they swearing loyalty (or happy to be paid by) said Evil Guys?
  • Do they live in a looming fortress  or underground lair? (This includes caves). Major cliché right there.

The Fighting

  • If there’s a battle, does everyone die slowly with plenty of time to say their last words? (Nasty and brutal realism says hello!)
  • Is there a valid reason why your world cannot have women fighting?
  • Have you got technology creep (aka. have you mixed weapons from different eras without considering the implications)? What is the dominant weapon and fighting style?
  • Is your hero unreasonably skilled with weapons without any real practise?
  • Is your hero an unlikely leader who suddenly finds some charisma?
  • Does your hero somehow dramatically save the day single-handedly? Bonus points if it’s single combat.

The Love Interest

  • Are they the only person who is described as beautiful / interesting / charming / stunning?
  • Do you pay more attention to their clothing / looks than to anyone else in the story?
  • Do they immediately fall for the protagonist? Or, conversely, immediately passionately hate said protagonist?
  • Is there a love triangle? This isn’t per se bad, but…just be careful how you do it, ok?
  • Any chance of LGBTQA representation? Do your main character(s) have to be attracted to (only) the opposite sex?

The Economics

  • Where does the food come from? How do they get water? Particularly for journeys, how do they ensure the ongoing supply of either of these things?
  • If you have got unreasonably large armies (good or bad), how are they being fed? What’s the administration from behind the lines like? As a student of military history, the amount of armies that survived on foraging because their supply lines got cut off / failed is ridiculous.
  • What are the cities based on? Palaces on top of mountains look nice, but trading is a problem. Why was your city based at that spot originally?
  • What’s the economy based on in your various societies? What do they buy/sell/trade?

None of these points are a complete no-no: if you have a reason behind it then that’s great! If your city is on a mountain because the swamps are a nightmare/things attack/a mad King wanted it there, no problem. If you want a culture with crossbows to attack a culture with nukes, do it – but explain why there’s the technology differential. If your supporting character is a full-time father, that’s fine – just don’t make it the default.

The idea is to make you think about all of these clichés. Everyone has ‘default’ settings – especially me – and we don’t often realise that we have them until someone points them out. And when that ‘someone’ is an editor with a red pen and a good line in snark, well, I’m just sayin’ that you might want to check this list out before your manuscript gets sent to them…

Anyone got anything else that really bugs them when they read a book? Wade in in the comments!


Ps. I reserve the right to add to this list or turn it into a permanent page…

On editing: Empty Skies & Sunlight alpha-read

En dash listThings I have learned:

  • My editor has a thing about en dashes.
  • My version of word doesn’t like en dashes.
  • My editor has a wicked sense of humour.

Apart from that, editing’s going pretty well!

The problem with Empty Skies (Book 5 of the GreenSky series) was that I knew something was wrong with it; it took me a long time to finish it, and I just wasn’t happy when I did finally complete it. Then the wonderful @vicorva had a look at it and ripped it to pieces, which was brilliant! I did a complete re-write and then sent it to my editor Nick at Red Pen For Hire, and he’s come back with more thoughts.

This has been a major alpha-read, so the comments that came back were a mix of high-level and detail (including the multiple dash replacements). I’ve added a whole chapter, moved two sections backwards, shifted a third forwards, and cleared up quite a few detail-related misunderstandings. The floating islands are pretty weird, so Nick and I had a conversation last week about those (amongst other things) and I’ve added more information.

I’m lucky in that the characters seem to have come out quite well, so no major changes on those. The plot’s apparently comprehensible – it’s a murder mystery but has a lot of bodies, so I was trying to balance sense with the mystery element, and I think it’s worked. We get more of Anoé and Yeo and an additional two people (including Anoé’s daughter Jess), so that’s been fun too.

It’s just gone back to Nick, so I think we’re in beta-read stage! It’s also gone to my alpha-reader (aka my aunt) for another look. I’m a lot happier with it now, and I think it’s a better story for all the deletions and re-writes – sometimes killing your darlings or slash’n’burn really does get better results.

Next: more writing on Book 10!

Need an editor or proofreader?

Red pen for hire editing

Let’s face it, editing sucks. Proofreading definitely sucks, or at least it does in my opinion as I read what I ‘wrote’, not what actually came out of my fingers… *sighs*

I wrote a post a while back about the three types of editing that a book needs: beta-reading, editing and proofing. For some of my work I rely on the team at Grimbold Books, but for most of it, I am lucky enough that I have an amazing beta-reader in the form of my Aunt, and an amazing editor and proof-reader: Nick Hembery.

I’ve been waiting for ages to be able to share this with everyone – he’s formally opened up his editing business, and he’s taking on new commissions!

If you need plot doctoring, copy editing or proofreading, he’ll do it. I will warn you that he’s thorough and he doesn’t mince his words, but he is also fair and almost always right – and he’s made my work so much better. I cannot recommend him enough and I’m so pleased that he’s finally opened up to taking other people’s work (as long as he still has time for mine, of course…)

So check out Red Pen For Hire!

Ps. He likes chocolate brownies. You might have to negotiate payment for other forms of cake, though.

On peace & quiet

A small rant from me this evening…if I’m editing or writing, leave me the hell alone!

I’m looking at you, cats. (Ok, and people. And the Lizard.)

It’s not just “a quick thing”. It’s not just “Do you want…”. It’s not “I’m just going to steal your lap because you’re sitting down…” It’s a tail in my face followed by paws on my keyboard followed by five minutes of shifting. It’s “Oh, while you’re paying attention I’ll just talk to you about-” It’s scrabble-scrabble-scrabble-scrabble-scrabble. It’s something that’s pulled me out of my paragraph, made me forget the next words of the sentence, left my mind blank if I was capitalising that word or not. It’s broken my concentration and disturbed my world and brought me back to a reality that I do not currently want to be in.

By all means, place a cup of tea by my elbow. By all means, jump on my lap and then settle down with the minimum use of claws*. By all means, stare at me accusingly. I am (mostly) nice, and I do try to warn my husband and housemate when I’m likely to be writing – plus they’ve got used to me over the years. I stick headphones in, I take myself off to the other room, I try to at least surface briefly to warn people and answer any important queries. I am a slightly considerate Inconsiderate Writer. But some days…for the love of everything you hold dear, stop disturbing me! Whatever you want is Not Important and I now have to repeat my damn paragraph because I’ve entirely forgotten where I go to!

And if you do disturb me: be warned. There is no wrath like that of an author who’s just forgotten the second half of a sentence!

Right, rant over! I feel better now. Plus I’ve just finished my last lot of edits for the meantime, so hopefully I’ll be more sociable for a few weeks…


* I’m realistic about the limitations of cats, if nothing else…