At The Red Telephone we identify a three stage editing process.
The Structural Edit
This is the biggest. Here we look to see if your story has a strongly defined structure. Do each of the characters play a big enough part? Are they well enough defined? Does the time scale work? Is the setting clear enough? Most importantly, is the resolution satisfying? Is it convincing? Is it dramatic enough?
Then almost coming into the realm of the line edit, does the pace vary? Is there cause and effect? Is the story logical? Does time work correctly? (We don’t want snow in summer – unless that is the whole point - and we don’t want two year pregnancies.)
The Line Edit
This is where we look carefully at every single scene and every single paragraph. Is that scene actually needed? Does it need to be longer or shorter? Does it need to tell more or show more? (Showing is usually preferable but just occasionally telling is better. Showing slows the pace. Telling quickens it.) Is there a good balance of action, dialogue, exposition and description? Is the dialogue convincing? Would that character say that, actually? Does it convey their voice? Is every word effective? It must always show character, take the story forward or create atmosphere and better still if it does all of these at once. Have you kept the voice / style consistent? Are there any clichés that can be replaced? Is your point of view stable? Are you working with the right narrative voice? Are there any darlings that need killing off?
The Copy Edit
Is there a good overall flow? Are there any typos? Are there any serious grammar mistakes? Does it actually make sense? Are there any clumsy or awkward sentences? Are any words used incorrectly? Are there any misspellings? Are there any formatting mistakes?
The Proof Read
This isn’t really an editing stage at all. This is where we recheck that all is well after the book has been designed.
What actually happens
We try to use a different editor for each editing stage. All of our editors can do all of these tasks but it is good to bring in fresh eyes each time.
The editing stages overlap a little. The structural editor may well comment on frequently occurring general writing weaknesses but won’t go into as much detail as the structural editor. The line editor may also see and comment on some copy editing issues.
Generally another copy-editor and the author will check the proofs. Sometimes on more complex texts other people help.
It still always helps if your text is as good as can be before we put it through these stages of editing. If there is too much wrong with your text we may not be able to see everything that is wrong.