Once you have the first draft of your novel and you’re pleased with the plot, it’s time to prepare it for others. Review Writing the First Draft of a Novel if you’re having problems finishing your first draft.

Now is the time to clean your creation up and prepare to share it with the world.

Notes from Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing by Larry Brooks

The following items should be considered as you review your draft:

  • Do your major actions line up with the approved industry format for your genre? If you break the rules, do you know it, and do you know why? The four parts of a story are explained well in Larry Brooks book, Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. Add it to your reading list to discover ways to improve your writing. It provides valuable insight into the four parts of a story and how to organize your novel.
    • The Beginning. Did you introduce your main character, giving the reader a reason to care about the character? Do you have a hook in the first 20 pages of a standard novel? Is your first plot point at the 25% point of the book?
    • The Middle. Do you change things up at the mid-point? By the mid point in your story, all major characters should have made an appearance. A major character who shows up late in the book can make your readers feel cheated. No matter what, no new characters – major or otherwise – after the second plot point or at the 75% point in your book.
    • The End.
      • Let the hero be the hero. If your story has a big final fight scene, your hero must be at the center of the conclusion. The hero is not saved. The hero saves.
      • Tie up those loose ends. Even if you’re writing a series, give your reader the kindness of an ending. Sure there can be a carrot dangling so that they look forward to the next book in a series, but if you don’t provide an actual ending for the story in the current book, your readers might desert you.
    • Did you review the entire novel, removing anything that doesn’t move the plot along? Even if a scene is the best-written scene you’ve ever crafted, if it doesn’t move the plot forward, it goes. If it’s truly great, move it to a deleted scenes document and perhaps turn it into a short story or flash fiction, but get it out of your book.
  •  Character:
    • Are your main characters well thought out (3 dimensional) with personalities, backstories, world view, motivations, and behaviors?
      • Did you put only the needed elements of the character’s backstory into your book? Show no more than 10% of the backstory you create for your character. The rest of the backstory will flesh out your character as you write since you will think of the character in that way.
    • Do your main characters grow? Learn? The protagonist must grow throughout the story, but don’t forget the antagonist. The antagonist might grow as well.
    • Do your main characters have both positive and negative traits? Heroes aren’t always paragons of virtue and villains aren’t always evil. Speaking of villains, rarely, do you have a character who considers themselves to be evil. Most have a warped view of the world and some believe they are doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Give your villain a little depth.
    • Are your walk-on characters allowed to walk off gracefully? No deep dives into the motives of minor characters.
  • Theme:
    • What does your story show about real life? Are you exploring an idea or shoving your point of view down your reader’s throat. Both options can be valid, but you need to know which you’re doing.
  • Grammar and Punctuation. Elements of Style, Harbrace, online resources. Once you’ve finished with plot rewrites, clean up the grammar and punctuation using the tools that work best for you. This is not a step you can skip.
    • To keep the focus on grammar and punctuation (not plot rewrites), consider printing the document, or saving it as a PDF, or emailing the document to your e-reader. You won’t spend time rewriting if you aren’t in a position to rewrite on the fly. This allows you to focus your review on the technical aspects of the novel.
    • Remember, online grammar checkers are good only up to a point. Use them as a final check, but don’t expect them to do your job for you. You must learn the rules of grammar and apply them properly.
    • In addition to grammar, check your document for unnecessary words. The word very can normally be removed without impacting the meaning of the sentence. Words you tend to use frequently (really, started to, actually, and the every popular that) should be checked and removed or replaced.
    • Read your novel out loud. Reading silently to yourself doesn’t cut it. Read it aloud and you will find sentences that don’t flow.

Next, comes the terror of sharing your words. Once you’ve finished the research, writing, and review process – and you’re feeling good about your story – the terror will diminish to something approaching panic. It’s time to let your creation fly. Turn it over to your beta readers and editors and accept any criticism with grace. This gets better with practice.

  • Beta Readers. A beta reader uses their free time to read your novel and offer you their opinion. Let them know up front that you want honest feedback and then be prepared for it. If one person marks the opening scene in Chapter 7 as confusing, review it. If two or more people mark it as confusing, you have work to do.
    • Identify tasks. With all tasks, ask your beta readers to explain why they felt the way the did. Some tasks you might want them to tackle include:
      • Mark sections where the plot slows to a crawl. It could be you were too wordy or it could be the section doesn’t belong in your book.
      • Mark sections where they would like more information or it felt like something was missing.
      • Mark sections they liked. Sections that made them laugh or cry. It’s good to hear positive feedback.
      • Give them a list of what you’re looking for and explain your writing style. For example, if you use the the Oxford Comma they might mark  out commas before the word “and” in a series.
      • If there’s something they should look for, tell them.
    • Don’t expect your beta readers to fix your grammar and spelling errors. You should complete that before giving them the book. Of course, ask them to mark any they see, but if there are too many, they’ll get lazy about it… and why shouldn’t they? Give them the best product you can. Even if you have someone reviewing grammar specifically, they should not need to turn your paper into a sea of red.

Editors serve the same function as a beta reader but come later in the process. Show respect for other people’s time. Don’t give anyone, beta reader or editor, a novel that still needs work. The former will irritate your friends and fellow writers who are doing you a favor, and the latter will get your book rejected.

The completed first draft of your novel is a wonderful accomplishment, but don’t stop there. Review your work and get one step closer to publication.

This post is one in a series of self-improvement for the guild. Information is complied from guild experiences and research. RWG Posts contain all posts of this nature.