You have finished your manuscript! Congratulations! This is a great accomplishment. But you aren’t quite ready to submit it to a publisher or agent. Publishing professionals receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of submissions every day. Yours must be outstanding to even catch their eye. Go over it, tighten, revise, polish, edit. Here are some things to look for.
• Are the natures and personalities of the main characters defined?
• Are the motivating traits of the main characters clear and believable?
• Are the main characters’ situation and objectives established?
• Do the secondary characters contribute to the main characters’ story without taking over?
• Are the protagonists clearly the major actors in the plot? Do they affect each event in some way?
• Does every event also affect the protagonist? Can you chart the cause-and-effect relationship between event and protagonist?
• Do your protagonists act heroically at some point (especially in the end)? Do they overcome inner problems in order to resolve the romantic and external conflicts?
• Are your protagonists challenged by the plot? If they easily handle every obstacle, you’ve got a cartoon superhero, not a hero and heroine.
• Have you kept secondary-character influence and accidental solutions to a minimum? The wise old man who explains all to the young hero is taking center stage. Consider making the young hero at least demand the tutelage.
• Do your protagonists each have an internal journey to complete? Make sure in the end they’re different than they are in the beginning, and different in the ways you have identified as essential to growth.
• Do the main characters start out with goals? It’s easier to entice them into meaningful action if they want something.
• Does the protagonist have both an internal and an external motivation for the goal. The character doesn’t have to know the internal motivation early on… but you should.
• If the protagonist later drops this important goal, do you provide sufficient motivation, such as a competing goal or a conflict of values?
• Can you identify the motivation of other characters too? It’s not enough that you need the villain to start stalking the heroine. The villain has to have reason for it too.
• Does every action and reaction result somehow from the character’s internal or external needs or desires?
• Overall, are grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and spelling professional enough to pass an editor’s standards?
• Page layout – NO hard and fast rules but this works. Chapter heading about 1/3 of the way down the page and the body text beginning 4 line below that.
• Do all the scenes fit these particular characters, their motivations, their conflicts? If your characters are individuals, they won’t act like clichés.
• Does the tone match the voice of the book (humorous, dramatic, contemporary, historical, etc.)?
• Are active verbs used? Does every word count?
• Most clichés come at the beginning of the story. Does your story open in a fresh way that shows something unique about these characters?
• If you want to use a clichéd scene, can you give it a twist that makes it different from other such scenes?
Are most of these points in the first chapter of your manuscript?
• WHO is the MAIN character?
• WHERE is the story set?
• WHEN is the story taking place?
• WHAT is the story concept?
• Does the story begin with the MAIN character in focus?
• Does the opening depict the MAIN character in some kind of conflict?
• Were there questions raised that needed answers (i.e. teasers)?
• Did the characters (if dialogue is present) have different speech patterns?
• Did the ending of the first line have a hook?
• Did the ending of the first paragraph have a hook?
• Could I determine a premise in the first 35 lines?
• No excessive use of adjectives and /or adverbs?
• Was there evidence of any outer and/or inner MOTIVATION?
• Do you paint pictures or use words?
• Was there evidence or any outer and/or inner CONFLICT?
• Do I see evidence of the ANTAGONIST?
• Do you withhold backstory unless it’s needed to understand the action? Don’t use chapter one to tell all that happened up to this point.
• Do you give some sense of conflict (internal or external) early?
• Is it unique, or, if not, then a fresh approach?
• Is the conflict believable and suitable to the genre/category?
• Is the conflict serious enough to sustain the story?
• Are the progressive crises that move the story forward revealed?
• Is the progression logical and are the crises believable?
• Is there sufficient potential for a truly agonizing black moment (when all seems lost)?
• Are the pivotal incident which provides the story’s resolution and the resolution itself revealed?
• Is the resolution satisfying?
• Is every scene essential to the story?
• Is dramatic tension maintained?
• Character-plot coherence. Could this set of events plausibly happen to and because of this character? Think of the protagonist as being on a journey towards growth and change. Can you track that journey through the events of the plot?
• Does every event causes some change in the character and a deepening or an improving of the conflict.
• Can you chart your protagonist’s journey through the plot to greater growth and wisdom? Is this the precise sequence of plot events that will force your protagonist to take this journey and make it to the end?
• Can you identify a theme for this book? Is some value affirmed or denied by the story events? Make sure all the events go to proving or exploring this theme.
• Do the major characters come into the plot because of who they are and what they do, not just by coincidence?
• If you have an accidental event, can you make it more purposeful? For example, if he’s on that corner when the car driven by his long-lost brother drives by, can you make one or the other of them have planned it?
• Do the revelations and discoveries come about because of protagonist’s action? Don’t just have the beautician happen to tell the heroine about the day the murder victim got her hair done… have the heroine seek out the beautician and ask.
• Is the ending brought on by the protagonist’s actions and decisions, not by a “deus ex machina”? Don’t let coincidence save your protagonist’s skin.
• Do you have an entire last act? You should have some crisis/dark moment (the event that jeopardizes everything) that causes the protagonist to make a difficult choice and take the action that brings on the climax. The climax should resolve the external plot. The resolution should show somehow that the protagonist has overcome the internal conflict enough to give and accept love freely.
• Does the last act of the book to resolve the conflicts established at the start? Go over your story questions and make sure each is answered one way or another.
• Does the crisis force the protagonist to face the internal conflict and overcome it, thus becoming able to take the action that will lead to the climax?
• Is the climax a real event, complete with action and reaction?
• Is the theme reinforced by the ending? That is, if the theme is “It takes a village to solve domestic violence,” then the ending should show neighbors helping the abused wife, not her forced to kill him to escape the abuse.
• Does the resolution show, at least in miniature, the restoration of order in the story world? Does it show what sort of love these two people will share in the future (nurturing or wisecracking or passionate or…)?