The ‘HOT 51’ Novel-Editing Checklist

March 21, 2018 2 By Carla

It’s easy to make mistakes in your draft and these can be anything from a few small typos to massively insane story or plot blunders. Some are even forgiveable or overlooked when hidden within an absorbing story, but one thing all writers want is a final draft that is admirable and clearly up to scratch. However, some errors can become etched inside your reader’s mind (and not in a good way,) but don’t panic, because we ALL make mistakes and that is no great sin. All we need to do is go back and fix them.

So, I’ve kindly set aside some of my valuable time to list a few things to check back on, because there is nothing more mortifying, (I truly believe this,) than a reader purchasing your book and then ranting about one of these blunders in a permanent online review. (Yes, we have all been there!)

You can cast your eyes over this list once you think you have finished editing your manuscript. (That’s if you really think it is finished.)

Lastly, it would be nice if you shared this list for other people to benefit from.


1. Character names which are too similar, like Fred and Ted. Change one.

2. Look for repeated words we don’t easily spot. We didn’t have have time to go out.

3. Is your story’s mood spiralling too low when it should be more upbeat, or vice versa?

4. Check physical impossibilities: She stretched out on the sofa. (Next paragraph: She got out of her car.)

5. Check your verb tenses aren’t all mixed up, e.g. I go to the lake and fed the ducks.

6. Check appropriate language. Have you used complicated or difficult words if the book is for Young Adults?

7. Are you using “these” or ‘these’ quotation marks? The former is good for books marketed in the US. The latter for books marketed in the UK.

8. He lived for 8 years. 8 should be eight. A hundred and higher should be written in text.

9. Don’t overload a sentence with adjectives. She wore dark, navy, shiny, long ski pants.

10. Did you limit the use of italics?

11. Did you limit the use of exclamation marks to sparing!

12. Did you make sure that the first paragraph of every chapter is NOT indented.

13. Did that bird in your story squawk? Not howl or squeak or bark. (Use correct verb.)

14. Did that bird swoop down, or fly down? (Play around with words to make the visual effect more appealing.)

15. Did you go back and fix every plot hole and tie up every loose end?

16. Did you check for common misspellings such as: their, they’re and there?

17. Does your Thriller actually thrill? Is your Romance sexy enough or too explicit?

18. Are your sentences missing punctuation and continuing on for so long that the reader can’t find a pause in-between them to catch a breath and would rather put your book down and go and have a soak in the bath tub instead?

19. Did you prune out all extraneous words?

20. Did you check to see where you could add more appealing descriptions?

21. Did you cut out all unnecessary clichés ?

22. Have you created three-dimensional characters that readers can connect with?

23. Do the characters in your first three chapters meander aimlessly? Is there no inner or external conflict anywhere? Go back and start again.

24. Did you write something like… ‘Feur Pas’ instead of ‘Faux pas,’ that a spellchecker might miss?

25. Have you capitalised proper nouns? E.g. I never knew that Auntie Jade and Uncle Jim purchased a German Shepherd from New Zealand.

26. And in the beginning… when talking about God… He will always be written as He.

27. Did you write a sentence like this? ‘I adjusted my sweatpants then kneeled before the great Tudor King.’ Go back to the 16th century and research.

28. Did your character use Chanel No 5 in a country that doesn’t sell it?

29. Do your characters act and think according to the social/cultural beliefs expected in that country, and for that time period?

30. Is your grumpy Grandad just too nice in the story after you’ve already described him as grumpy?

31. Are your chapter lengths a little bit out of control? Chapter 6 (Half a page.) Chapter 7 (13 pages).

32. Did you check that all your quotation marks are correct and present? It’s common to have a few missing or looking zany, like “this.’

33. Did you check to make sure your dialogue tags aren’t a bit bonkers? ‘Stop,’ he pontificated amusingly.

34. Is your heroine wearing a blue mini dress that sweeps the floor on the following page?

35. Is your character ‘scratching his head,’ too much or ‘gazing blankly ahead,’ in every scene? Watch out for repetitive actions.

36. Is your dialect ‘spot on, mate,’ if your character is a Cockney Londoner? Will your target audience even understand it?

37. Did a character disappear in the latter half of the book leaving the reader to ponder what the hell happened?

38. Did you use too many exclamations? ‘Oh My God,’ ‘Wow,’ ‘Bejeesus,’ ‘Damn,’ etc.

39. Seasonal Inconsistencies: Did you check that your character didn’t go to bed with the air-con on at full blast then wake up to a snowy scene outside his window?

40. Did you add and enhance a sense of atmosphere? Engage the reader using the senses, e.g. The unsightly papered cracks in the wall.. coal ashes spreading from the hearth.. a damp musty smell.

41. Watch your verbs: He bended his knee is incorrect, but he can bend down by bending at the knees.

42. Do you have too many characters doing too many things in one chapter? Try to avoid confusion.

43. Do you have a good balance of dialogue and narrative? Narrative is all the story stuff you are conveying to the reader when the characters aren’t talking to each other.

44. Have you made sure the reader will know exactly who is speaking in every conversation?

45. Did you end your chapters with a little cliffhanger, or at a decent point to wrap-up the scene?

46. Will your reader have to flip back pages to keep track of who is who? (Common error.)

47. Did you use a comma where a semi-colon might fit better?

48. Did you stick to the right POV throughout?

49. Did you make sure the first paragraph really HOOKS the reader in to the story?

50. Is your title the best one to suit the theme of your story?

And finally…

51. Did you drink enough coffee to last you an entire lifetime? Well, now is the time to quit (and sleep.)

If you find any misspellings in the above list you can go ahead and kill me. Or you can just add to it in the comments below and pass on your own bit of advice.

Happy Editing and please spread the love!