Story Editing. Copyediting. Proofreading. What in the world are they?

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In today’s publishing environment, it’s up to an author to ensure all the major steps of revision/self-editing have been completed.

After you’ve written your first draft, you’ll need to work your way through the revision process. So what are the different steps in self-editing fiction?

Here is our take on it. After you write your story, the first step is a story edit,followed by your rewrites. Then you’ll do a copyedit and finally a proofreadStory editing, copyediting, and proofreading combined make up the revision process.

Following this order will save you time on editing. If you copyedit or proofread too early, you may have to repeat this work. Of course, you can fix obvious errors when you see them, but don’t spend time on copyediting until you’ve finished a comprehensive rewrite.


Image Source Fictionary

Create your story and complete your first draft. Easier said than done 🙂

That’s why there has been so much written about how-to-write fiction! Whether you’re a plotter or a panster, it’s up to you to decide how to best write your story.

Story Edit & Rewrite

You’ve completed a draft and may have been told to put your work in a drawer for a few weeks and then come back and reread it with fresh eyes. This never worked for me. Even if I ignored my draft for weeks, I needed a structured process to evaluate and rewrite my manuscript. I realized I was doing my own story edit.

A story edit focuses on the big-picture of the novel. You’ll evaluate:

You’ll check for consistency and clarity, and you’ll end up rewriting scenes in your manuscript to improve content and structure. This is the most time-consuming step of self-editing, however, your effort spent on evaluating and rewriting your draft will ensure your story makes sense and is ready to polish and share.

So no surprise…this is where Fictionary will come to the rescue!


Now you’re getting into the details of each sentence with a focus on style. It’s time to check for:

  • Language errors including punctuation, grammar, and spelling
  • Run-on sentences (you may want these in dialogue or thought — just make sure you do this on purpose)
  • Repeated information or words
  • Clichés
  • Too much description
  • Unclear or confusing passages
  • Boring or passive language
  • Showing versus telling
  • Too many adverbs
  • Sentence length variation
  • Consistent spelling (For example: US versus Canadian)
  • Consistent hyphenation, fonts, and capitalization

Both ProWritingAid and Grammarly are great online tools for copyediting and proofreading. I use both, ‘cause I like them both.


At this phase, you shouldn’t be finding too many errors. This is the final check before publishing your manuscript. You’ll notice you’re not changing your story or your style. Here you’ll check for final spelling or grammar mistakes, then ask yourself:

  • Are all chapter headings formatted the same?
  • Are any pages or headings omitted?
  • Is the page numbering consistent?
  • Are the headers and footers formatted the same?
  • Are italics consistently used?
  • Are paragraph indents formatted the same?
  • Are there any double or triple spaces between words?
  • Are there any double spaces after a period?
  • Are times formatted the same — am, a.m. AM?
  • Is the spacing between ellipses consistent (… and not . . . )?

How Will Fictionary Help You Story Edit

Fictionary is a new interactive web app for self-editing fiction that helps writers turn a first draft into a story readers love.

Developed by writers to help fellow writers, Fictionary is the first online tool for editing the story, not just the words. Writers are guided through a scene-by-scene evaluation of their manuscript by analyzing key story elements for characters, plot, and settings.

With interactive reports and writing advice for each element, writers can visualize their story and see where and how to improve their writing. With automated progress tracking, writers save time on self-editing and can be confident that their work is ready to share.

How Fictionary Works: A writer imports a manuscript. Within seconds, Fictionary automatically creates a character list, links characters to scenes, plots word count per scene, and draws a story arc.

The writer then inputs key story elements for each scene, evaluates and edits the manuscript based on output from Fictionary, and then exports the updated manuscript. The output from Fictionary is dependent on the writer’s input and is specific to each manuscript.

Why not check out our free 10-day trial?



54 thoughts on “Story Editing. Copyediting. Proofreading. What in the world are they?

  1. Appreciate your detailed summary on editing. I have my list of things I look for, but yours is longer. I also use ProWritingAid, but find the feedback can become overwhelming. I and my editor end up choosing what to edit and what not. It seems the editing tools get more sophisticated every year. It makes you wonder if someday you’ll be able to dump a bunch of words into one end of a tool and a novel will shoot out the other.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi DR. Thanks for stopping by. I admit I love using tools, but they are no replacement for hard work on the writer’s part. Grammarly is a little less overwhelming than ProwritingAid. They seem to find different errors so I use both. Then I find errors on my own, too. Then my editor finds errors. Endless if you ask me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is great. I’m an editor. I do story edits and copy edits, but I don’t proofread. I had someone ask me to proofread once although I told her I don’t. Since this was someone I know and adore, I agreed to do it, but I ended up copy-editing instead because there were things I could not ignore. I do point out spacing, italic, and other issues as I edit, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dianna, You are absolutely right Beta readers and critique partners are super valuable. I use them for every book I write. I believe that the better quality story I share with them, the higher the quality of feedback I get back.


  3. It’s interesting. I can see all three aspects of editing in my revision process, but I don’t think I’ve ever separated the three, particularly copyediting and proofreading. I’ll have to give that a try, see if focusing more definitively on one aspect leads to better results.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post is timely for me as well. I am starting first pass edits. I just stumbled onto Fictionary’s site while writing my last blog post, was intrigued, and bookmarked it to check out. I will definitely go back and give it a try.
    Also thanks for the great breakdown of the editing process!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Caroliena, As you can probably guess I love the editing phase of writing. All kinds of creative surprises happen, and my story usually changes quite a bit from the first draft. If you do try Fictionary, I’d love to get your thoughts on it.


    1. Hi Anna. There are so many ways to do it. Thanks for sharing what you add to the beginning of the process. I’m terrible at outlining. My imagination seems to leave the building… I have to write for my imagination to come alive.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Kristina, this post made me tired! I guess ’cause editing tires me. It’s so hard! Like Diana in her comment, I like to use Beta readers and finally pay to have a professional edit. Even with all that, mistakes appear in the final draft. It’s maddening. One of the big problems is trying to proof read or copy edit from the computer. We miss so much that way. I suggest (and maybe someone else did so as well) printing out each chapter and reading the printed version out loud. That’s my last step in the grueling process of editing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Joan. Proofreading exhausts me too. I print my novel and read it out loud. I also have the computer read it to me. I catch a lot of errors that way. Especially if and of etc. When I hear the words I notice them more. And still there will be errors…


  6. I like your distinction between the different levels of editing – it’s very similar to mine 🙂

    I’ve just finished copyediting a novel that (apparently) had been run through Grammarly before it was sent to me. I was not impresssed. The Word document used three different dictionaries (UK, US, and New Zealand), so the spelling wasn’t consistent, and there were a lot of punctuation errors (including run-on sentences). There were also a lot of adverbs and other overused words, and a lot of passive voice.

    But is this the fault of Grammarly, or an author who didn’t understand what the programme was asking her to fix, or who didn’t make the fixes? This, to my mind, is why we still need human editors 🙂


  7. Oh wow, Fictionary sound like a great tool. Thanks for clarifying copyedit and proofread. In all honesty, I tend to do those in tandem. But I can see the benifits of separating them.


  8. Such a great post! I have found that my biggest struggle as both a writer and a copyeditor/proofreader is to refrain from proofreading as I go–if only I could shut off that portion of my brain while going through the actual creative process, I think I’d be able to accomplish far more actual writing! Thanks for this 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Hey Kristina, I am not into story editing and mostly edit academic papers. Any tools you would like to recommend? Which are your favorites? I will surely go and check fictionary as well, to keep myself updated about trends.


    1. Hi Lisa, Fictionary is intended for fiction and in particular novellla’s or novels. I haven’t used any software for academic papers, so I can’t help you there. Sorry about that.


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