My "edibuddy" Sea Chapman shared this on Twitter, and it's such incredibly good advice I am reblogging it here.
This is an article written by author Jenny Crusie, and it gives some outstanding tips on self-editing. If you're wondering why your story just doesn't "work," save yourself my fee and read on!
Original link: http://arghink.com/2014/08/questionable-things-to-look-for-in-revisions/
1. Read your first scene. Read your climax. Does your first scene set up your climax so that the reader has a sense of inevitability, that it was always going to end here? Are there elements repeated (theme, setting, dialogue, event, conflict, whatever)? Or are they completely unrelated? Rewrite the first scene to set up the echo.
2. Do a search for “ly” words, followed by searches for “just” and “very.” Delete 99% of them, making the verbs they modified stronger if necessary.
3. Print your story out. Find the ends of your turning point scenes and separate the ms into four piles (or however many acts you have). Treat each act as a story in and of itself. Does each act have its own structure, rising in tension to its climax/turning point, as if it were a novella on its own? Does the beginning of the next act start with the protagonist in a new place, revising plans as he or she realizes the stakes are a lot higher and it’s a whole new ballgame?
4. Still looking at the act stacks from your paper print-out, do the act sections get progressively smaller toward the end? If not, start cutting pages from the later acts so that they do.
5. Look at your protagonist in the first scene, the turning point scenes, and the climax. Is his or her arc clear at those five points? Does she change in important ways at each point? Is she a different person at the end of the story than she was at the beginning, to the extent that she wouldn’t have been able to handle the climax at the beginning in the way she handles it at the end?
6. If you have subplots told from the POV of a supporting character, go through and read only those scenes. Does the character arc? Do the subplot events arc? How does this subplot echo/mirrow/reverse the ideas of the main plot?
7. Track each main and supporting character through the story, reading only the scenes in which she or he is present. Are there scenes in which he or she isn’t doing anything when he or she would be saying or doing something given the situation? Fix that. Are there scenes in which he or she is not doing anything because there’s nothing for him or her to do? Cut the character from the scene. Look at where he or she is at the beginning and ending of the book. It’s all right if the character hasn’t arced, not all characters do, but the character should have been affected by the events of the book unless he or she is terminally clueless and have sailed through the events without noticing (some characters do).
8. Is there a word, event, object, phrase, etc. that repeats throughout? That’s a motif. Figure out why it keeps turning up and what it means, and then go through and sharpen and focus it so that it serves the story in subtext.
9. Read the book through from the beginning. Are there parts that you’re skimming? Cut them. (Really. If you’re skimming them, imagine what the reader’s doing.)
10. When the book’s the best you can make it, give it to beta readers and ask for their emotional response to the story: what parts they loved, what parts were slow, what threw them out of the story.
Then revise again.