After you’ve finished the first draft of your popular fiction novel or short story – or even if you’re only a third or halfway into it but have some nagging doubts about the viability of various aspects of the story – take a short break. Put your manuscript aside for at least a week or two and concentrate on other things. Then come back to it with a bit of distance, as a reader.
Here's a step-by-step guide to looking for any possible weaknesses in your premise, plot, characterization, or writing style. This is a pretty detailed list, so just approach it one step at a time, over days and weeks, maybe even months. Click on the links after each point for more in-depth suggestions on that topic.
STEP 1: LOOK FOR ANY BIG-PICTURE ISSUES.
Click to read: Create a Complex, Charismatic Main Character.
Does your protagonist have significant, meaningful goals and motivations? What is driving him or her?
Do your characters’ decisions and actions seem realistic and authentic?
Click on this link: Make Sure Your Characters Act in Character.
Also, are your supporting characters different from each other and the protagonist, for interesting contrast and tension?
~ POINT OF VIEW:
POV 101: Get into Your Protagonist’s Head and Stay There
POV 102 – How to Avoid Head-Hopping
POV 103 – Engage Your Readers with Deep Point of View
Every Scene Needs Tension and a Change.
Make brief scene outlines, using this template:
Scene: Chapter: Place:
- Date/Month/Season: Year (approx.):
- POV character for this scene:
- Other main characters here:
- POV character’s goal here:
- Motivation for their goal (why do they want that?):
- Main problem/conflict – Who/What is preventing POV character from reaching his/her goal:
- Outcome – Usually a setback / new problem:
Revise any scenes that don’t have conflict and a change and don’t advance the story.
~ CONFLICT, TENSION and INTRIGUE:
~ POTENTIAL PLOT HOLES, inconsistencies, or discrepancies:
12 Dos and Don’ts for a Riveting Opening.
How to Slash Your Word Cut by 20-40% - Without losing any of the good stuff!
This would be a good time to send your story off to some trusted beta readers, volunteers who read critically in your genre. They don’t need to be writers.
Here’s a list of 15 Questions for Your Beta Readers – And to Focus Your Own Revisions
STEP 2: WRITING STYLE, VOICE, TONE, AND PACING
~ SHOW CHARACTER REACTIONS.
See: Bring Your Characters to Life by Showing Their Reactions and
Immerse Your Readers with Sensory Details.
~ RELAX YOUR WRITING.
See Tips for Loosening up Your Writing.
See: Concrete Tips for Developing a Unique Voice in Your Fiction
Developing a Strong Third-Person Voice, and also my book, Captivate Your Readers
~ SPARK UP YOUR PROSE.
Nail it with Just the Right Word.
~ PICK UP THE PACE.
See: Pick up the Pace for a Real Page-Turner
~ WRITE TIGHT.
Don’t Muddle Your Message.
~ WRITE AUTHENTIC DIALOGUE.
Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue.
Avoid these Style Blunders in Fiction.
STEP 3: FINAL PROOFREADING
Now it's time to go through the revised copy and look for typos, spelling, punctuation, missing or repeated words, convoluted sentences, and anywhere the prose doesn’t flow easily and sparkle.
Dialogue Nuts and Bolts.
Some techniques that work for effective proofreading:
~ Change the font and print out your story on paper or download it to your e-reader or tablet; or get a sample book printed. Then read it in a different location from where you wrote it (preferably away from your home) and make notes.
For more tips on effective final proofreading, see my article,
Tricks and Tips for Catching All Those Little Typos in Your Own Work.
Also, see How to save a bundle on editing costs – without sacrificing quality and
Basic Formatting of Your Manuscript (Formatting 101)
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, and CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie on her Amazon Author Page, at www.JodieRenner.com, and on Facebook.