I’ve been neck deep in revision for the past couple of weeks, working on the story structure of The Quiet in the Land (aka Willa). During the process I compiled a list of questions to ask myself and a couple of beta readers who have graciously agreed to read for me. Thought I’d share those questions here, in case they may be of interest or help to others in this post-first-draft editing process. I’ll end with a list of writing craft books I’ve found helpful on the subject of self-editing.
I broke the list into categories of General, Characters, Spiritual Thread, Theme, and Setting
Was there a point where the story “hooked” your interest? Where was it? What was it? Of course writers all try to make that opening line or paragraph a hook, but often there comes a point when I’m reading a novel where something happens in the plot, or character development, and after that there’s no turning back for me; I must find out what happens to the characters. This point of no return isn’t always in the first chapter. I’ve had it happen several chapters in. I’d be interested to know if there is some point in The Quiet in the Land, either in regards to story, setting, character, conflict, the writing, voice, whatever, that hooked you like that.
Did you have a sense of the conflict established early on escalating as the story unfolded? Or were their times when that tension grew thin, or the story seemed to be wandering? Did parts of the story lag, or feel too slow-paced?
Did anything jar you out of the story? Were there any passages that were confusing, or that you had to reread to make sense of? I’ll want to make them clearer (I do tend to write overlong sentences. Much of my editing is breaking them up, simplifying and clarifying what I’m trying to say).
Was there anything about the plot that seemed implausible? Were there any plot holes? Things that should have been explained that weren’t?
How predictable was the ending? Were there any surprises? Anything you expected to happen that didn’t? How early on did you know how the story would end?
Did the main point of view characters (Willa, Neil, and Joseph), have believable motivations to reach their goals? Were those motivations strong enough to keep you wanting to know if they succeeded? Were their story goals clear?
Did you sympathize with the main characters? Did you care about Willa and Neil?
What about the main antagonist? Did he feel like a fleshed out person, with believable motivations for what he did?
Were there any characters that weren’t believable, or who you couldn’t get a grasp on? Or who felt clichéd? Did you (male readers) ever feel that my male point of view characters didn’t think or act like a man would? Did any character ever seem to speak or act “out of character”?
Were some characters not given enough stage time to make them believable or feel like real people? Were some characters given too much stage time for the parts they played in the story?
If I hadn’t used proper names to give context, would you have known which character’s point of view you were in based solely on their narrative voice? Were they distinct from each other?
Were the main characters’ spiritual journeys satisfying and believable? Did at any time you feel I was skimming the surface of spiritual or emotional issues in the novel, when I could have gone deeper?
Did the spiritual elements grow organically out of character and/or plot?
Did the spiritual aspects ever feel too preachy?
Did you discern any themes in the story? What were they? Might they have been deepened? Did you ever feel hit over the head with them?
Was the setting and time period portrayed believably? I try to make my story settings as vivid and crucial to the plot as one of the characters, but having never been to upstate NY, this was tricky. Let me know if you think I got it, or if not, what I might be missing.
Did anything (a word, a character’s attitude, a description) feel anachronistic to you?
The following titles are books I’ve found helpful over the years when it comes to revising and self-editing my work. Not the easiest thing for most writers to do, since it’s hard to see the story for the words.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Browne & King
Revision & Self Editing, by James Bell
The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass
Writing the Break-Out Novel, by Donald Maass
I hope you’ve found these questions I’ve applied to my current manuscript helpful. Do you have other self-editing questions I missed? I’m still in the process of editing (and am pleased to say the word count is a respectable 125,000, and I hope to drop a few more thousand with this next editing pass I’m beginning today), so please leave a comment and share your wisdom with the class. 🙂
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