CAN YOUR NOVEL PASS THIS TEST?
Answer yes or no to the following questions:
- Does your story promise to fulfill a single, fundamental yearning of your protagonist, one that reflects an issue of human need, such as forgiveness, belonging, redemption, family unity, or self-respect?
Resource: A Story is a Promise by Bill Johnson
- Is your novel plotted dramatically, not episodically, according to Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey?
Resources: The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler; The Key by Jim Frye
- Does your protagonist pursue a clear-cut story goal, one that only he or she can reach? Is the goal one that readers will care about?
Resource: How to Tell a Story by Gary Provost and Peter Rubin
- Do you use your protagonist's strength to advance the plot; do you use the weakness ("fatal flaw") to introduce complications and setbacks?
Resource: Writing and Selling Your Novel by Jack Bickham;
Creating Story People by Dwight Swain
- Have you selected viewpoints consciously, been consistent in their development, changed viewpoint only when you change scenes or chapters?
Resource: Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
- Have you deepened your characters by filling out worksheets of character traits and determined which archetypes and metaphors underlie their deepest motivations?
Resources: The Hero Within by Carol Pearson; The Survivor Personality by Al Siebert, Ph.D.; 45 Master Characters by Victoria Schmidt; Dynamic Characterization by Nancy Kress.
- Does your protagonist face ever-greater obstacles to reaching the external story goal and at the "darkest hour" all but lose hope?
Resource: Story by Robert McKee
- Do you reveal an unresolved problem from your protagonist's past that is activated by the plot and fits with your theme?
Resources: Dynamic Characterization by Nancy Kress; Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
- Is every page enriched by sounds, touch sensations, smells, and tastes, as well as by sights, all conveyed through the viewpoint character's perceptions?
Resource: Description by Monica Wood
- Do you advance your plot using scenes, sequels, and movement that spring from dramatic tension? Do you begin your scenes with clear goals (stated or implied)? Are your sequels rich in emotion? Do you constantly raise questions in the minds of your readers?
Resources: Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham; A Story is a Promise by Bill Johnson; Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld
- Does the balance of your writing weigh heavily toward showing (about 80 percent) vs. telling (about 20 percent); active verbs (98 percent) vs. passive verbs (2 percent)?
Resources: Description by Monica Wood; Setting by Jack Bickham
- Does your opening hook your reader with anticipation in the outcome, intrigue your reader with the originality of the story premise, and move your reader by evoking the unfulfilled yearning at the heart of the story?
Resources: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress;
A Story is a Promise by Bill Johnson; The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
- Do you know your theme; can you articulate it as a pitch that unites theme with characterization and plot?
Resources: Theme and Strategy by Ron Tobias; Stein on Writing by Sol Stein; The Career Novelist by Donald Maass
- Have you written a working synopsis that you can later revise into a two or three-page marketing synopsis? Have you drafted a five-paragraph query letter?
Resource: The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit by Elizabeth Lyon
If you answered yes to 12 or more of the above questions, your novel could be ready for final editing and revision. You can reasonably expect to find representation by a literary agent or interest by an appropriate publisher. If you checked fewer than 12 items, don't feel badly. Even experienced, sometimes professional, novelists, fall short of a perfect score in early drafts of their novels (or sometimes in later drafts!). If any of your answers were no or "I don't know," your manuscript is not ready to compete in today's difficult marketplace. You will benefit by reading the above resources, taking classes in novel craft, and by hiring a professional editor when you have done everything you can on your own. There are many qualified book editors. Please consider the company founded by Elizabeth Lyon: Editing International, LLC. Web address: www.4-edit.com (don't forget the hyphen after the number four).
©2002 Elizabeth Lyon