Macro-editing points: Character and Story

Soul
What is the book’s soul? What was the kernel of truth you wanted to communicate when you first had the idea? When you look at comments you’ve got from readers, do they advance or impede this soul? This may help you decide which comments to work on, and which to ignore.

Character

  • Are your main characters the right ones for telling your story? Usually you’ve got this right, but not always.
  • Is the motivation clear? What do your main characters want? Without motivation, the story won’t move forward. Is the behaviour of the main characters and the interaction between them consistent?
  • Are your main characters interesting? They don’t have to be likeable, but there must be something about them that resonates with the reader and makes him or her want to find out what happens to them.
  • Are your main characters’ voices distinct and consistent? Check that you haven’t introduced your own voice by mistake.
  • What role do the minor characters play? Do they have a purpose in the story? What would happen to the story if you cut them out? If the answer is ‘nothing’ then consider removing the characters who serve no purpose. Be ruthless. Kill your darlings.

Story
Does the story structure work?

Beginning and ending

  • Have you written a page-turner opening that makes the reader want to continue?
  • Does the opening set up the problem and does the ending resolve it? If not, do you need to remove or relocate the opening and the ending? One reader pointed out that she though the real beginning of The Golden Illusion comes in Chapter 3, and I have a horrible feeling she may be right.
  • What’s the inciting incident? Does it happen because of something the main character does, or is it external?
  • Is there a climax? Does it come at the appropriate place, just before the ending? Is there a denouement which ties up the loose ends and resolves the plot? I have a recurring tendency to stop too soon and not write a proper denouement.

Middle

  • Is there an arc of rising action, including setbacks?
  • Do scenes end on cliffhangers to keep the reader motivated?
  • Is there a logical connection between each scene and the next in this middle part? Can you say for every scene ‘this happens because ….’?
  • Does each scene move the story forward? If not, you know it, kill your darlings.
  • Do you need to raise the stakes? Have you pushed your main character as far as he or she will go? In the early drafts of The Golden Illusion, I hadn’t given my hero nearly enough of a hard time.
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