Write it Right, Part 1: Fiction Checklist

The decision to put a novel “out there” is one that makes many writers nervous.  Whether you’re planning to self-publish or send the manuscript to literary agents, the thought of strangers reading your words can be enough to prompt sleepless nights, obsessive last-minute revisions, and no small amount of second-guessing.

So how can you tell when your novel is ready—really ready—to be seen in public?  Just as you’d check your hair before walking out the door, here’s a checklist every fiction manuscript should undergo before going out into the world.

For each scene in your novel, ask yourself:


-Could this scene be shorter?

-Could this scene be cut entirely?

-Would this scene make more sense in a different place in the story?

-Could this scene have more action?

-Does this scene engage the senses?

-Does this scene reveal new information about the plot or characters?

-Would this scene be more interesting if it took place in a different setting?

-Does this scene contain enough tension and conflict?

-Does this scene really belong in this novel, or should I save it for a different project?

For each main character, ask yourself:


-Does this character have clear goals and problems?

-Do these goals and problems get resolved in a satisfying way?

-Does this character have to surmount big enough obstacles before achieving her goal?

-Does this character grow and change over the course of the story?

-Does this character have flaws as well as strengths?

-Have I described this character’s physical appearance in detail?

-Does this character speak and act in a believable way?

-Have I fleshed out my character’s past?

-Does this character have a distinctive voice?

For each secondary character, ask yourself:


-What is this character’s function in the story?

-Is this character critical to the story, or could this character be combined with or replaced by another character?

-If this character is part of a subplot, does that subplot get resolved in a satisfying way?

-Does this character appear at even intervals throughout the novel, or does she drop off the map for long stretches?

-Is this character different enough from the main character to allow for interesting conflict?

-Does this character have a distinctive voice and personality?

For each subplot, ask yourself:


-Is this subplot essential to the story?

-Does this subplot contain enough conflict and obstacles?

-Does this subplot get resolved too quickly?  Too slowly?

-Does this subplot peter out without getting resolved at all?

-Does this subplot develop at an even pace over the course of the story, or does it drop out for long stretches?

-Does this subplot reveal something powerful about my characters?

For the overall novel, ask yourself:


-What are my book’s themes?

-Can I sum up the plot in a sentence or two?

-Have I chosen the best possible title?

-Have I trimmed unnecessary scenes, paragraphs, sentences, and words?

-Can I identify where this book would be shelved in a bookstore?

-Can I think of other books that are similar to mine?

-Can I describe my target audience?


Can you think of any other essential questions to ask yourself before making a manuscript public?  Share them in the comments!

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