Story Checklist: Tips to Perfect Your Story

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Story Checklist: Tips to Perfect Your Story

Before you ship your query to an agent or publisher, take a long look at your manuscript and see if there are last minute changes to be made. This checklist will save you a lot of rejections!
1. Was the premise proved? If a writer cannot remember what the premise is, or never had one, the story is in big trouble. If the synopsis does not state the premise and does not indicate how it is proved, a publisher will not even read the manuscript. The premise is the reason for the story. It is the purpose which guides every decision made by the characters.If the writer set out to prove the premise, self-sacrifice leads to happiness, has that been done? Was the outcome of the story dependent on the self-sacrifice of the hero or heroine, or both? Was the resolution a matter of luck, fate, or hard work? Even if the story is built with scenes aimed at proving the initial premise, if the actual outcome of the book does not relate to that premise, organic unity has not been achieved. The story will fall apart.

2. Will the reader be touched emotionally? Can the reader truly identify with the hero? Are all characters sufficiently developed for the reader to care deeply about them? Are they sympathetic? Have they acted inconsistently in any scenes, doing something mean or stupid and alienating the reader? If so, have they redeemed themselves or suffered the consequences?

3. Do the characters ring true? The hero and heroine of a romance must have opposing traits to make them interesting and to support conflict. The same can be said of heroes and villains in any story. Are the characters too much alike? Does the action of the story allow them to display their characteristics to the maximum? What are their ruling passions? Are they well motivated in every scene? Would they really behave as they did in every circumstance? 

4. Did the characters change? Was there growth? Did the outcome of the story evolve as a result of the changes in the characters? (The main characters of any novel should grow and become changed by the events of the story. They should discover new strengths and virtues along the way.)

5. Were the characters securely bound? If the protagonist and antagonist, or the hero and heroine, could have just walked away from the situation to avoid the conflict, the risks were not real and the story will be unsatisfying.

6. Were the characters plunged into rising conflicts? Did the action lag or conflicts become static or jumping?

7. Are all the conflicts resolved? This is not just question for crime novels. Were all the loose ends tied, or is there more story to be told?

8. Was there variety? Are the action scenes repetitious? Are the love scenes distinct?

9. Did writer start the story in the right place? Was the situation set up so carefully in Chapter One that the reader will lose interest before the action begins? Where does the interesting part start? That is where the story should begin! The reader should be plunged into the action. 

10. Do the events of the story grow out of each other? The outcome of scene one should lead to scene two, etc. The reader should be drawn from one conflict to the next with an understanding of the progression of the events and the cause and effect relationship between the scenes and sequels.

11. Does the climax have impact? Is it revolutionary? Was there a surprise? Is it satisfying? Was the emotional impact powerful?

12. Was there irony or poetic justice? Could there have been? This is a very satisfying element to a reader.

13. Were the characters fully revealed? Will the reader come to know the hero and heroine well? Are various emotional states explored? (Some action and thriller books have the hero angry from page one to the end. That is a static situation, regardless of the intensity events.)

14. Are there extraneous bits of business or anticlimactic events? They should be cut out to keep the writing tight.

15. Did the writer choose the best narrative voice? Will the narrative get on the readers nerves? When the narrative is done in the voice of a character, rather than in the authors natural voice, it may sound right for the first few chapters, then become increasingly distracting.

16. Was the right point of view employed? Would the story be better if told from another point of view? Was the choice of point of view too restrictive? For example, romance novels tend to be told from the point of view of the heroine, but that is not a law. The story might be better told from the point of view of the hero, or could have greater depth if more than one point of view were used. Changes of points of view within a scene are confusing to the reader, but between scenes, or with each new chapter, the writer has a choice.

17. Are flashbacks necessary? They should be avoided if there is any way to tell the story without them. Flashbacks are gimmicky and bring the action of the story to a grinding halt.

18. Is there a prologue? Can it be eliminated? Prologues are a sign of not being able to fully integrate the elements of the story. They run up a red flag to editors who will keep looking for other signs of amateurism. If the story can stand on its own, the prologues should be eliminated. (The same goes for epilogues.)

19. Have conflicts been avoided which could to be exploited? Stories are built on conflict. A writer should never pass up the chance to use one to good advantage. Have all significant actions been described fully? Good writers will show, not tell. That makes readers feel they have witnessed the events.

20. Were symbols used? Symbolism can be a powerful tool, but all symbols must be appropriate and must have a reason which is significant to the story.

21. Does each scene have a rising conflict? Is it as exciting as possible? Does it move the story forward? Is it essential? Any scene which does not adequately support the story should be cut. 

22. Does every line of dialogue enhance characterization and further the story? Dialogue in a story does not have to supply a response for every comment, or reflect the way people converse in real life. A few comments or questions may convey the meaning sufficiently. Is all dialogue original, colorful and emotional? Strong and profane language should be avoided, even if it is appropriate for the characters. Profanity tends to have a stronger impact on the written page than in normal conversation. Often, it stops the action, which should be avoided.

23. Is the writing sensual? Does it appeal to all five senses? Can the reader taste, feel, see, hear and smell what the characters do? Are readers drawn into any 6th sense situation when appropriate?

24. Is the writing more active than passive? Use of active verbs, not passive ones, will make a greater impact. Characters must actually do things, not just be the recipient of action. (Look out for the words had, was, have, did, and infinitive forms…to ______ They slow down the action.)Action should take place on stage so to speak, not just be described as having occurred in the past or in another place. 

25. Adjectives and adverbs should be used with a light touch. Writing sounds more powerful with fewer modifiers and stronger verbs and more descriptive nouns. However, the texture or tone of the story may be enhanced with more description. The writer needs to find the proper balance.

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