How to Edit a Manuscript: Part 2 – Grading the Competency Level

In Part 1 of the How to Edit a Manuscript series, we introduced you to the way Story Grid approaches editing a manuscript and gave you the first three steps in the editing process (1: Read the Manuscript, 2: Complete an Editor’s Six Core Questions Analysis, 3: Create a Story Grid Scene Spreadsheet for the first five scenes).

Now that we have a deep understanding of the manuscript through those first three steps, it’s time to assign a Competency Grade.

How to Edit a Manuscript: Part 2 - Grading the Competency Level

Assigning a Competency Grade

This is the most emotionally taxing part of the process for both the editor and the writer. We’re reducing the writer’s hard work down to a number grade from one to five. This can often seem harsh and overly simplistic, but it is an essential tool for the editor to provide helpful feedback and next steps to the writer.

Here are the breakdowns for the five levels and how to identify which grade a manuscript should receive.

Level One

How to Diagnose a Level One Manuscript

None of the work will abide by the FIVE COMMANDMENTS OF STORYTELLING at any unit of analysis. Not the beat, not the scene, etc. There will be no discernible global genre choice. The writing will be overly descriptive and self-conscious. In terms of “working scenes,” 10 percent or less will have a value shift.

After mapping the first five scenes, you’ll have no doubt about this categorization. It won’t be long before you’ll recognize these manuscripts after one page. Sometimes you’ll recognize it after a single paragraph. 

What to do with the Manuscript

Level one manuscripts are ones destined for a drawer. Some elements may be salvageable, but the manuscript must be completely rewritten. 

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Level Two

How to Diagnose a Level Two Manuscript

About 10 to 25 percent of the scenes in the manuscript will work, meaning they have a clear Five Commandments of Storytelling and a value shift. There is a strong indication of the genre the writer wishes to pursue, but it is in no way fully realized. Oftentimes, the manuscript has rough story structure principles embedded, but they’re not enacted either correctly or fully. There are missing or misused conventions and obligatory moments and many wandering bits from other genres.

What to do with the Manuscript

Level two manuscripts are also destined for the drawer. Because at least 75 percent of the scenes are not working, along with a very messy global structure, nothing other than a page-one rewrite could ever be prescribed.

Level Three

How to Diagnose a Level Three Manuscript

Half or more of the scenes will work, meaning they’ll have a discernible value shift and will abide by the Five Commandments of Storytelling in a Level Three manuscript. The big problem for these manuscripts is the global structure. The writer has chosen to poke around a genre without fully immersing themselves in its global requirements. The manuscript often has no clear, discernible controlling idea, narrative device, or quadrant structure.

What to do with the Manuscript

This will depend heavily on the writer and what they want to work on next. Although the manuscript clearly does not work, there will be a number of salvageable scenes. While there is extensive work to be done to raise the level of the manuscript, it is often possible to do so.

However, the writer may be ready to take the teaching they’ve received from the editor on this manuscript and apply it to a new work.

Level Four

How to Diagnose a Level Four Manuscript

These manuscripts have the opposite challenge as those of Level Three manuscripts. These manuscripts show that the writer has good macro skills and the global story works, but the micro scene-by-scene work is flawed.

If published as is, these manuscripts would please a certain portion of the genre category but would not be considered at the top of the genre. 

What to do with the Manuscript

The writer may choose to publish a Level Four manuscript and avoid the extra work to fix the micro problems. However, with extensive micro scene-by-scene work, the manuscript could seriously improve and become a top-of-genre published title.

Level Five

How to Diagnose a Level Five Manuscript

These manuscripts work at both the macro and micro levels. They have solid story structure and abide by the chosen genre’s conventions. All the necessary macro elements are in place and at least 80 percent of the scenes have value shifts and abide by the Five Commandments of Storytelling. 

What to do with the Manuscript

These manuscripts are absolutely publishable. However, with some help from an editor, they can get even better. These are the manuscripts that a serious deep dive and consideration from an outside voice can really help.

Now what?

Ok, you have the competency grade for a manuscript.

What comes next?

Levels One, Two and Three

For manuscripts at these levels, the first thing a Story Grid Editor will do is finish the Story Grid Diagnostic.

This will provide clear feedback on the manuscript along with the next steps a writer needs to level up their writing skill set.

Level Four

For a Level Four manuscript, a Story Grid Editor will also finish the Story Grid Diagnostic but can go a step further and provide a Story Grid Intensive analysis as well.

Level Five

Once a manuscript is at Level 5, a Story Grid Editor will finish the Story Grid Diagnostic but then can also provide a Story Grid Extensive analysis to help the writer push the manuscript up to Masterwork level.

What are the Story Grid Diagnostic, Story Grid Intensive, Story Grid Extensive analyses?

Each of these levels of analysis have their own set of tools a Story Grid Editor will apply to the manuscript.

We’ll cover that in the next article…

Click Here for Part 3 of this Series

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