Ok, so last time I talked about the beginning, characters, setting, and dialogue. But I still have a lot more thoughts, especially about plots because that’s my personal favorite — a fabulous, super complicated, surprising plot is what I LIVE FOR in novels. So…brace yourself, I guess.
· Does the narrator’s voice sound authentic? Usually, people talking inside their heads don’t speak formally. Does the dialogue sound realistic? Is there clumsy wording that people wouldn’t use IRL out loud?
· SHOW the reader, don’t tell. I’m not a five-year-old — please don’t spoon-feed me information. This means you should be revealing who characters are and their motivations through description of action, not by telling the reader exactly what the character is thinking. For example, you can TELL: “She was nervous,” or you can SHOW: “Her knee jumped up and down like a pogo stick.”
· Authors get added points for making their prose poetic. Interesting metaphors, pretty turns of phrase, beautiful imagery, etc. To be honest, I usually know this when I see it, but have no idea how to advise you to actually do it.
· Avoid annoying repetitive habits. (This is hard to remember, as all writers have their own habits and idiosyncrasies and mistakes they repeatedly make). For example, constantly using very specific verbs: He wheezed, then snorted, then reported, then inquired, then announced, then grouched…. Often, it’s okay to just use “said.” Or not at all — if there’s dialogue between only two people, you can completely drop the verbs.
· Has anything really interesting happened by page 50? Actually, several significant events/revelations should happen before page 50. If not, then I (the evaluator) will quit reading and reject your manuscript.
· Does the order of events make sense? Do characters do nonsensical things that make the reader wonder if anyone would actually do that in real life? Not in the wow-this-person-is-unwise sort of way, but in a this-scene-is-really-unrealistic way.
· Do the characters actually achieve anything in the scenes? Do those scenes move the plot along?
· Would the reader see the ending coming? If so, was that a bad or a fun spoiler? Is the ending too tidy/could it use some mystery? Are there a lot of extra details that could be saved for the next book in the series?
· What is the story arc? Can you graph the rising and falling action? Is it a mountain or a slope?
· Could the story benefit from some threading/time travel?
I will leave you with a mindblowing rule of thumb I learned in one of my classes: Always remember scene vs. summary. Pretty much all fiction writing can be analyzed using just these two categories. Where are you creating a scene? This can slow down the reader’s attention. Where are you summarizing some information for you reader? This should be a short stop at a complicated island before you bring in some more action.