Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Questions for Your Manuscript

NOTE! Don't forget, as listed on my sidebar, I offer 250-word critiques on this blog. Can be posted anonymously or with your name. Send your sample pasted in an email to artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com. It can be a little over 250 words in order to finish a sentence. Discover what I (and others) suggest about how to make your opening page stronger!

Your Writing Journey
Wherever you are in your writing journey, there are questions to ponder before it reaches public eyes. Here's a short (?) list of things to watch out for. Seriously ask yourself these questions, or pose them to your critique partners to apply to your manuscript.

1. Is your main character someone a reader wants to spend the entire novel with? Is he/she interesting…relatable…likeable?   
2. Are the supporting characters, especially best friends, fleshed out? Do they have likes, dislikes, motivations, lives beyond the page? Why does your main character hang out with his/her friends--what do they have in common?
3. If the villain or antagonist is a person (rather than circumstances or self), does he or she have motivations for evil behavior? Are they rounded rather than mustache-twirling stereotypes?
4. What is your main character's goal? What does he or she want? (This can shift and morph) Will it change MC's life if the goal is not met--are there consequences?
5. Does your character change throughout? Can you look at him/her at the end, and truly say he/she is a different person from the beginning? What has he/she learned?
6. Is there emotional resonance? Do your characters feel deeply and cause the reader to feel deeply?

Setting, Theme, Hook
1. Does the location of your story complement your genre/novel style? Does it make it nicely more complex and layered?
2. Does the time of year you've set the story matter? Does the weather affect your characters' lives and decisions? (it doesn't have to, but it can provide an added dimension)
3. Is there a universal theme--true love conquers all, sacrificing for others, navigating romance while staying true to one's self, showing courage despite fear, etc.? What nugget of truth can readers take away?
4. Is your storyline unique? It needs a hook, a draw. What makes your story different from everything else out there, and why should a reader spend HOURS reading your book?
5. Have you begun the novel intriguingly, rather than with backstory, explanations, and preparatory set-ups?

1. Is your forward momentum strong--is there a compelling urge for the reader to stay up past bedtime and finish?
2. Are there surprising twists, things that are logical but unexpected?
3. Have you avoided the "middle doldrums," the saggy mid-point in which nothing develops or changes? Are your conflicts and tensions taut throughout? 
4. Do your chapters always end on low notes or at the end of the scene--or have you spiced things up by ending in mid-scene and mid-action at the end of some chapters?
5. Have you varied your highs and lows, causing the quieter scenes to make the action ones feel more intense? (even thrillers often have "down times" to refresh the reader)
6. Does the main character's problems escalate and get worse as the story progresses?

The End
1. Have you wrapped up all the questions and loose ends? Does it feel finished, satisfying? (even with a series, it's important to tie up main or crucial plot points)
2. Is the ending logical, with no contrived twist that solves everything? Has the main character solved the problems, or has someone or something else solved them? (the villain's death, a cataclysmic event, a parent or boyfriend)
3. Is your last paragraph/sentence strong, since that's the thing the reader will see and remember?

Do you run your novels or stories through questions like this?
When do you ask these kinds of questions--at the beginning, the end, or throughout?
When you critique others' manuscripts, do you use a list like this?



  1. Great questions! I do have questions I like to ask of my characters and the novel but they're different although similarly themed.

  2. These are so great~ I will put my WIP to the test with these questions!

  3. Great list, Carol. Bookmarking... :)

  4. I am saving this. What a great list to have.

  5. Great questions to ask myself and my critique group! We may have different answers :)

  6. I always need lists like this! I'm going to print this one, thanks!

  7. Wow. Just wow! This is a great list to have handy while editing!

  8. Excellent. I love this list. I pulled out an old book about a year ago and was really surprised about the integrity of the emotional highs and lows. I think the key really is to take the reader on a journey where they feel something.

  9. Great list Carol! You're so thorough. Thanks for sharing :)

  10. I do use many of these questions, particularly in my outlining stage. Once the book is written it's harder to answer the questions honestly ;)

  11. These are awesome questions to ask ourselves in any stage of our writing. I'll definitely be bookmarking this post.

  12. I love checklists! There's some good ones on here that I could add to my own lists...

  13. Hi Carol! This is such a great list. :)

    I’ve nominated you for an award on my blog. You can check out the details here!

  14. An excellent list of questions! I try to ask these sorts of questions while I am outlining and as I write and revise. And yet, there is always a question or two that I miss until the final revisions. Thank you for this, Carol.

  15. These are great questions! I'm marking this as a favorite and sharing a link to your post on the SCBWI Carolinas listserve.

  16. Great questions. Thanks for sharing. I'm going to share them at my FB writing site.
    Random Writing Rants

  17. Great questions. Plan to share them in my next Fiction Writing Workshop. I saw this on the post that Laura Renegar made!

  18. Great list! I'm about to plunge into more edits, so good timing :)

  19. These are great questions, Carol! I often ask a lot of questions regarding characters' motivations when I'm at the plotting stage.

  20. Brilliant stuff, Carol. You are always chock full of helpful hints for every writer!

  21. I like this list of questions. I don't know if ask these questions methodically, but I should! Thanks.

  22. Hi Carol -- I saw that you posted at RANDOM WRITING RANTS today and had to click on over here. I LOVE all those books above. I love to write YA so therefore I like to read YA--to see if I've missed my mark or found my bullseye with my topic, voice, and characters. I'm reading SHATTERED right now and although I've never read it before I'm finding it similar to my YA so I think that's a good thing. I'm enjoying it. A small press is considering one of my YA novels right now so my fingers are crossed. I hope to be browsing over here a lot more often.
    Thanks for all your tips!

  23. That is an extremely thorough list of paces to put any novel through Carol! I think I do my mental checklists more subconsciously than consciously, but maybe I should rethink that... :-)


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