It’s very easy to get lost in the weeds when writing and editing a novel. You might spend a lot of time tweaking this or that line and fixing typos, but meanwhile, you might have gone astray on some of the bigger (and more important) fundamentals.
These big picture issues can be hard to spot because they can steadily meld with your conception of the novel itself.
“It has to happen this way. That’s just the way the novel is. That’s just the way this character is.“
Careful! You’re still the author. Everything is on the page because you chose to put it there.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’re taking a final pass at editing, make sure you can answer all of these questions in a satisfactory fashion.
Here’s a diagnostic:
- What’s your novel’s perspective? You must know your novel’s perspective and it needs to be consistent.
- What does your protagonist want? What is the big thing they’re going after? Protagonists need to be motivated.
- What are they doing to go after that thing? They also need to be active.
- What do they hope happens if they succeed at getting that thing?
- What do they fear will happen if they fail? The rewards and risks are bound up in what’s at stake.
- What are the top three obstacles? Your protagonist should conflict with obstacles in increasing intensity over the course of the novel.
- Who (or what) is the villain? A villain can be a character, a group of characters, or even an illness or condition like alcoholism. It’s the biggest thing standing in the way of the protagonist getting what they want.
- What does the protagonist have to learn in order to defeat the villain?
- How does the protagonist emerge changed in the end? A protagonist’s evolution is crucial for their character arc.
- How do the key relationships change over the course of the novel? Every major relationship in the novel should have ups and downs and end in a different place than they began.
Even if you nail these big picture questions you may still have more work to do, and this revision checklist can help.
But if you can’t easily answer these questions: you may have a problem.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Confidence of Alexander the Great to Doctor Philip by Henryk Siemiradzki