And finally . . .
This is a checklist for manuscripts that are almost ready to go to a publisher. It will help you spot weaknesses in your book before you send it off. Or, if you work with a critique partner, it will help you spot weaknesses in her book.
Make sure it isn't too long - two pages of single spacing is enough.
Make sure you haven't mentioned too many characters - you don't need to mention every character. Aim for clarity so the reader can easily see the main dramatic points, and the main emotional highs and lows.
Make sure you haven't let the minor characters run away with the synopsis. The synopsis should be about the major characters. Only mention minor characters if they're essential to the plot.
Make sure it:
Starts at a moment of change for the main character.
Displays the tone of the book eg humorous.
Moves at a fast pace to get the reader into the story.
Make sure they're convincing and don't wobble. Character growth is good, wobbling is bad. So what's the difference?
This is an example of an unconvincing character:
We're told in chapter 1 that the hero likes danger and excitement because it makes him feel alive, but we never see him doing anything dangerous or exciting.
If you set your hero up as an action man, make sure we see him doing some action things, or if you don't want to do that, start a scene now and again where he's just come in from doing something dangerous.
This is character wobble:
In chapter 1 we learn that the heroine's afraid of heights.
In chapter 3 she shins up a tree to rescue her niece's kite, with no explanation of how she can bring herself to do this.
In chapter 5 she's afraid of heights again.
This is character growth:
In chapter 1 we learn that the heroine's afraid of heights.
In chapter 3 her niece's kite gets stuck in a tree. There is no one else around, so the heroine can't ask someone else to get it. They are on their way to give the kite to a friend who needs it straight away in order to enter a kite flying competition, so the heroine can't leave it there and ask someone else to get it later. Her only options are to get the kite or upset her niece and niece's friend. So she fights down her fear and climbs the tree. When it's over she's exhilarated because she's overcome her fear.
In chapter 5 she's asked to walk round the battlements of a castle and, because she's conquered her fear of heights once, she knows she can do it again, and so she walks round the battelements.
Thereafter, she is never afraid of heights in the book again.
Make sure your characters learn something by the end of the book.
Make sure the reader is rooting for them.
Make sure they have something at stake in the book - a new business they want to succeed, a character trait they want to overcome, an ambition they want to achieve etc.
Make sure they have pasts and futures, talking or thinking about hopes, fears, dreams. Make sure they do things throughout the book to help them achieve their goals.
Make sure they're likeable.
Make sure they have have flaws, but make them understandable flaws and also basically likeable flaws. Self pity isn't a likeable flaw, for example. Rashness is.
Make sure they react in believable ways.
Make sure you would like your H/h in real life.
Make sure they try and solve their problems rather than just moaning.
Make sure we see them in a range of situations so we see a range of emotions.
Make sure they're not Too Stupd To Live. A heroine who takes her cheating boyfriend back time after time is too stupid to live.
Make sure you don't have too many minor characters and make sure you odn't let them run away with the book.
Make sure your hero and/or heroine are in every scene.
Make sure your hero and heroine are together in most scenes and have meaningful interaction that engages their emotions.
Is it boring? If so, you need more plot.
Is too much happening? If so, you need less plot or you need to slow the pace.
Is it confusing? If so, you need to explain the plot properly, slow the pace or have less plot.
Does it run out of steam half way through so that you are just rehashing things in the second half? A plot really needs to be rolling, ie before one problem is solved you need to be setting the next problem up, so that there is always a reason why H/h can't get together.
Are the scenes too similar to each other? If so, vary the settings between indoor and outdoor, night and day, vary the weather, vary the types of interaction- if they're arguing in one scene show them getting on well in the next.
Make sure that actions have consequences and show us the consequences, following them through the logical steps until they've been resolved. For example, if the heroine's mugged and loses her handbag, she goes to the police, she has to cancel her credit cards, buy a new mobile phone etc. You don't have to show each little thing, you can have it in conversation, for example she could say to her friend something like, 'It's not just losing the bag, it's everything else that goes with it. I've had to cancel all my creidt cards, buy a new phone, tell everyone the new number - I have the awful feeling I'll forget someone' - etc. But don't just ignore the consequences of the incidents in the book or it won't seem real.
Make sure the problems aren't dealt with too easily. Sometimes problems can't be resolved, or they have complications.
Make sure there is enough internal conflict. You can do this by:
Giving your heroine / hero mixed emotions, eg She wants to see the hero but she's afraid of getting hurt again.
Make sure there is enough external conflict eg events, or other people, throw problems in their path.
Make sure it's convincing for the character. A self centred character won't ask other people how they're feeling. A confident person won't ask for permission to do things.
Make sure the dialogue doesn't sound the same for each character. Check the following points:
If one character says, 'You see,' a lot, don't have other character say it, because if you do, it will come across as the author's dialogue and not the character's dialogue. Make sure that no two characters have the same way of speaking, either because of 'tags' like Urm, excessive use of Maybe etc or because of lots of dashes in their speech etc.
Make sure your characters talk about meaningful things ie the plot, their thoughts and feelings. Dialogue should either move the plot forward or move the emotional plot forward, it shouldn't be there as a page filler.
Is there enough tension in the book?
Does the reader want to know what happens next?
If not, cut out the flabby bits or make something exciting happen.
Are the chapter endings flat?
Eg She went upstairs to bed.
If so, make them look forward eg
As she made her way upstairs, Melissa wondered if she would ever see Dominic again.
Other ways of introducing tension:
A hint of something in a character's past. This can then be explored later in the book, eg the hero can tell the heroine about his past. This will further their understanding of each other.
Every scene must have a point to it. It must either further the eventful plot, eg the heroine's dog is ill and so she takes it to the vet. Or it must further the emotional plot eg the heroine's at a nightclub when the hero enters and they find themselves standing next to each other at the bar. They've parted on bad terms but something she says to the barman amuses him and they find themselves laughing together, ie they get over their argument. Or it must provide reflection on something that's gone before, maybe the heroine wishing she hadn't given the hero such an earful but she was stressed out because of her mother/dog/friend being ill, and wondering if he'll ever speak to her again.If a scene doesn't further the book in some way - if everything's the same at the end of the scene as it as at the beginning - then cut it out.
If you need 3 weeks to pass, don't try to show a realistic passage of time by showing the heroine going shopping etc for 3 weeks. Simply cut to a new scene and say something like, 'It was 3 weeks later when she saw him again.'
Make sure your hero and heroine are together enough. They can't fall in love if they never spend any time together. Make sure they get to know each other's hopes, fears, dreams, pasts, presents, likes, dislikes, values, standards, hobbies etc so that their relationship has depth.
Are your exciting scenes exciting enough? If not, inject some dramatic happenings every now and again, but make sure they're in keeping with the scale of the book. If it's a historical set on a country estate, a barn could catch fire. If it's a contemporary book set in a town, there could be a burglary or car crash etc. Don't put in a dramatic incident that isn't feasible in that particular book.