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Reading like an editor

May 25, 2015

A work of fiction is a composition of many parts. Editor Barbara Berson says considers these elements when she works with authors. The list is useful for writers to use to check their own work.

1. Story or premise—What is the story about? Is it compelling, fresh, and interesting?
2. Characterization— How complex, consistent, credible and authentic are the characters? What roles do incidental characters play? Do they outshine major characters?
3. Plot—What happens? How much happens? Too much? Too little? Is it believable?
4. Structure—what’s the shape of the story? How does it move? How are events organized? How are flashbacks used?
5. Dialogue— is it varied, purposeful, authentic and natural. Is it balanced with exposition?
6. Point of view— Who tells the story? Are there shifts in point of view? Would the characters realistically notice or know what they reportedly experience?
7. Tone—is there a good match between tone (serious, humorous) and the content? Is the mood matched by word choice?
8. Setting—Is it described sufficiently? Is it the right setting? Are the details correct and do they make sense?
9. Research—this is the author’s responsibility but with historical fiction, an editor might check the veracity of certain facts or check to see if other historical events might enliven the story.
10. Voice of the author—Can you hear it? Should you hear it? Is it intentional or jarring?

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