Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

New Writer's Checklist

It's almost NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month: ) so I'm breathless with anticipation--I can't wait to get started on my paranormal. I plotted it out and have been chomping at the bit, wanting to write and starting tomorrow, I can! Whoopee! I love starting new manuscripts. I love the beginning--the setup--it's so much fun when that hero and heroine first meet!

Anyway, because of NaNoWriMo and my obsessive/compulsive/competitive need to WIN, which means writing 50,000 words before midnight on Nov 30, I probably won't be doing much blogging. So...I thought that tonight, I would put together a checklist of all the tips and things I have learned that you need to review in your manuscript before you send it out to anyone. It's the sort of list you need to use about a month before you put your manuscript in the mail, because after all, you actually need time to fix any weird little things you find on the final run-through.

So, here it is, the Writer's Checklist:
Note: I'm going to assume that you're going to figure out what the right answers are to the questions listed below...
  1. First - print out your manuscript (I know it's a pain--but do it). Things will look differently when it's actually printed out. You will most likely find some really odd mistakes that your eyes had just skipped before. Once it is printed: Read it out loud. Can you read through it without stumbling? Does it sound right? Does it make sense? Do you use horrible names for your characters that no one can pronounce--including you?
  2. Do all the characters' names start with the same first letters or syllables?
  3. Is your writing smooth? Is there anything which throws you out of the story or makes you read a line twice to figure out what you meant?
  4. By the end of page 1, do you show your main character's current, immediate situation and initial motivation, even if that motivation changes later? Does the reader understand your character's emotional state? If you are withholding anything about your main character so you can spring it on your reader as a surprise later, don't. The surprise will be on you because the reader won't get past page 1 if they don't understand your main character and pretty understand the initial setup/starter conflict. The more information your reader has, the more likely they are to bond with your characters. This is not to say you should start with a dump of the character's backstory--no--do not do that. We just want to know the immediate situation and the character's current mood/disposition/personality at this point.
  5. Does the action start immediatly on page 1 or is it just...boring?
  6. Are there too many details that don't mean anything? Are only the most important and relevant details included? To set a scene, you really only need a few-very sparse--details. Anything more is boring. Editors call an excess of details: overwriting.
  7. Do we understand the protagonist (see item 3) and does the protagonist have at least 1 trait we like and/or relate to, be it humor, charm, protectiveness, integrity, honesty, or whatever...Show us. Show us on page 1.
  8. Do you use too many big words and obfuscate your meaning?
  9. Is the total manuscript length right for the genre you wrote it for? (E.g. many Harlequin romances are 50,000 - 70,000 words in length, while a single-title like a romantic suspense may be 100,000 words.)
  10. Did you use the right point of view for the genre? Most genres and editors want limited third person.
  11. Is your point of view clear at all times? Is the point of view in each scene "grounded" with the character who has the most to lose or most involvement with the scene?
  12. Do you have too many subplots giving your manuscript the distinct feeling of having everything except the kitchen sink thrown into it?
  13. Do you have a sagging middle?
  14. Do you have at least 2 plot twists or unexpected developments (this helps avoid number 13)?
  15. Do you have a black moment when everything seems lost for the hero or heroine?
  16. Do you have a satisfying ending? An example of an unsatisfying ending would be if your heroine spent the book investigating a murder, only to have someone else solve it or the murderer die offstage somewhere in a manner unrelated to the investigation. Your hero and heroine actually have to have some part in the ending.
  17. Do your characters grow and learn something?
  18. Are your details and language correct for the time period used for the manuscript? Does your heroine say, "Okay," in 1809, for example? Does the hair and eye color stay the same for your characters--unless they deliberately take some action to change them.
  19. Do the characters each have their own speech pattern so that you can tell who is talking by what they say?
  20. Is the world you built, whether it be Regency England or a colony on Mars, consistent?
  21. Is the grammar and spelling correct?
  22. Have you gone crazy yet?


That's the list. Hope it helps.

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