By Kathy Crowley
If you’ve just finished a draft of a novel or other work-in-progress, this isn’t the moment to dive into revisions. It’s the moment to stick the whole thing in a drawer (see my post here on the Real Science of drawers) and go do something totally different — mud wrestling, mountain climbing, naked poetry slams, etc.
Before you put it in the drawer, though, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself. Don’t spend a lot of time on the answers – just make a few notes… and then put it all away.
Three Questions on the big picture.
1. If you had to chose three words to describe the things you care about most in this novel, what would they be?
2. What are the central conflicts in your story?
3. What are the other ways in which the central conflicts in your story might have been resolved? Are your resolutions more likely/believable/honest/compelling than other possible outcomes?
Three Questions on characters:
4. Do you know where your characters are coming from – meaning, do you have a solid feel for their backstories and what they do in their off-screen time? Most importantly, do you understand their motivations and does the plot arise organically from these motivations?
5. What do you know about your characters now that you didn’t know when you began? Given this information, does the early part of your story still make sense?
6. Are the things that intrigue you about your characters coming across in your writing?
Two Questions on plot logistics:
7. List the central plot points in your story then spend a minute thinking about each of them. Are they forced or do they feel driven by the characters and the storyline?
8. Are you leaving enough unconnected dots to maintain suspense and engage your reader?
Two Questions on feedback:
9. If you’ve received feedback from trusted readers, are they coming away from the story with what you want readers to get? (See #1 and#2 above.)
10. Do you find yourself resisting an aspect of the feedback that just isn’t what you want to hear… but rings a tiny bell of truth somewhere in your head?
One Question to rule them all:
11. Do you have a back-up (or maybe two?) of your current version, correctly dated and identified so that there’s no confusion should you need it?
The major purpose of this exercise is to get a few ideas germinating while you’re off scuba diving, or at your Buddhist retreat or just showing up at work. A leg up on the revisions.
Okay, ready? Now close the drawer.