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be your own critic
by Vivian Beck
   

The three main flaws that occur over and over again in manuscripts by unpublished authors are:  the BEGINNING is too slow, the MIDDLE is padded with irrelevant action, and the ENDING is either too long, or too unbelievable, or both. 

BEGINNINGS

1.  Introduce main characters.

2.  Show where the story is taking place.

3.  Hint at conflict.

4.  The story should get under way with the first word on the first page.

5.  It is not necessary to tell the reader everything about the main character in the first chapter; you should hold back some information.

6.  As the writer, you need to know everything about your characters before you start to write your book.

7.  Usually, it's best to begin a novel with some kind of action.

8.  Make the opening intriguing, then continue with your characters in action, introducing short pieces of info.

9.  Be sure your reader knows where the story is taking place.

MIDDLES

1.  This is where you develop your novel. 

2.  Writers often put in too much introspection on the part of the main characters.  Let the reader know what is on their minds, but be brief.

3.  Let action move the story.  Plan on plenty of action in the middle to move the story forward.

4.  The story should grab the reader at the beginning and take him/her successfully to the ending.

5.  Apply the law of cause and effect in plotting.   Don't ask what's coming next, ask instead what would be the result.

ENDINGS

1..  Should be logical but not necessarily predictable.

2.  Tie up all loose ends.

3.  Strive for believability in the ending.

4.  Don't drag out the ending.

REVISION

1.  Go backwards through your manuscript one page at a time so you won't get caught up in the story.

2.  Look first for too many WELLS, JUSTS, and VERYS.   Cross most of them out!

3.  Check spelling and grammar, looking especially for mistakes in syntax.  (Example:  Her shoulders squared and left the room.)

4.  Check to make sure the nouns are specific, that you have written "weeping willow" instead of the tree, the "cocker spaniel" rather than the dog.

5.  Scrutinize verbs.  Try to replace passive verbs with action verbs.  Example:  "George hugged Elizabeth" is stronger than "Elizabeth was hugged by George."

6.  Cut out as many adjectives and adverbs as you can and check punctuation.

7.  Make yourself comfortable, then read the book from beginning to end, pretending it was written by writer whose work you do not enjoy.  Check passages you try to skip over due to boredom.  Read straight through, as a reader would making notes in margins, sections that seem slow or dull or unbelievable or trite.   Mark scenes that don't seem visual enough, or transitions that are too abrupt.

8.  Revise all things that you have marked.  Read your story again, checking for movement of the characters.  Check characterization (have people come to life, can you see them all the way through, do you care about them?)

9.  Make sure heroine has acted, not just reacted.  Is she worth loving.

10. Is the hero real, a human being with admirable qualities, or is he just an ad for jockey shorts?

11. Check your viewpoint.

      a.  Action must be filtered through heroine if the novel is told through point-of-view.  The reader should not hear, see, learn or observe anything that the heroine cannot see, hear, learn or observe.  (Example:  You would not write "Tears rolled down her beautiful sculptured cheeks."  ONE: This sort of thing makes her seem conceited.  TWO: Such a description jars the reader into looking at the heroine from the outside, instead of looking at everything through her eyes.  So, the heroine would feel the tears rolling down her cheeks, never see them.)

      b.  Multiple viewpoint.  You still need to check to make sure you have not bounced in and out of several characters' minds in a short space of time.   It would be too confusing for the reader.

12. Check characters' actions to make certain they have been properly motivated.  Your characters should never do anything without a reason.

13. Check dialogue.  Does it sound stilted  Does it sound right for their age?  Does it fit the period in history?

14. Try to unravel the various threads in your story to make sure you haven't dropped any halfway through the novel.  Are they all tied up?  It's easy to loose track in a lengthy novel, so this aspect of the manuscript must be carefully checked.

15. After checking all of the above, read the manuscript once again.   You should be through sick of it by now, so if it holds your interest, it should hold an editors too.

16. Put the novel aside and think about it.  Make sure you have not missed anything significant.

17. Your aim in all this self-criticism is to produce the best book you can possibly produce.  Before you send a complete manuscript to an editor, it should be the best work you can do.  This is the writer's responsibility, the writer's task, the writer's job.

 
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