Until now you have been putting the minutia of your manuscript under the microscope. Now it’s time to step back and study the big picture. This applies to the overall arc of the plot as well as to smaller segments such as subplots, chapters, and scenes. How effective is each of these? Have you chosen the best way to accomplish whatever purpose you had in mind? Did you show your readers what you want them to know through the use of action and dialogue rather than simply telling them about it? Have you laid a subtle foundation for plot twists rather giving the reader whiplash over a sudden change of course? How does each story segment link to the others? Are the transitions smooth and logical? Does the suspense inexorably build toward the climax?
This type of editing requires you to jump into the reader’s skin. You the writer already know how the story ends. No matter how thrilling and satisfying that ending might be, your readers have only your implicit promise that it will be worth their while to keep turning the pages. You need to lay out a continuous trail of breadcrumbs in order to bring them along. To make sure you have done this, examine each scene, chapter and subplot and ask yourself the questions suggested above. If you are convinced there is good forward momentum, then move on. If not, fix the problem.
One of my early books needed this type of doctoring. The last third of this book was a page turner, but the first two-thirds didn’t move fast enough to flow well into the climax. I went back over the manuscript and looked at each and every scene with the goal of increasing the tension and suspense. I expanded some scenes and reworked others until I had done what I could within the context of the primary conflict. It was a hard slog.
I wish I could say I identified this book’s weakness through my own editing powers. As it happened, my agent brought it to my attention. Thus I am the first to admit how difficult it is to police one’s own work. Some people hire a professional editor to critique their manuscripts. I did this myself once early in my career. The advice I received proved invaluable in helping me hone my skills, so I would never discourage you from taking this option. Before you consider it, however, I urge you to edit your first draft yourself at least two times. Each change you make will be a teaching moment and will further your understanding of your craft.
When you are convinced you have transformed your manuscript into the best product it can possibly be, you will be ready to put it on the market. Like every other aspect of writing, this one requires diligent research and planning. Check out my personal suggestions on my Sell Fiction page.