Tuesday, December 18, 2012


By Isabo Kelly

Pay Attention To The Following Big Topics

1. Characters (Consistent? “In character”? Appealing? Interesting? Unique?)

2. Plot (Engaging? Are there holes? Logic errors? Complex enough? Are you torturing your protagonists enough? Does it get consistently more intense or does the middle stumble along pointlessly for a while?)

3. Flow (Does the story flow? Does the writing itself flow? Are you pulled out by awkward sentences? Scenes?)

4. Voice (Appropriate to the type of story you’re telling? Consistent?)

5. Pace (Does it move appropriately to your genre? Are there lulls? Is it too fast with no breaks for the poor reader? Cut the parts you skim.)

6. Dialogue (Realistic? Unique to each character? Important?)

7. Facts (Accurate? Research required?)

8. Descriptions (Appropriate? Excessive? Not enough?)

9. Use of sensory detail!!! (Forgive the exclamation marks but this is very important—are you using more than just sight? If not, do!)

10. Chapter arcs – openings (Compelling?), middles (Sagging?) and endings (Encouraging readers to move on to the next chapter?)

11. POV (Head hopping? Consistency? Are shifts clear?)

Within these over arching topics,there are also some specific things to look out for:

1. “Pet” words (words you use way too often because you like the way they sound). This includes words or phrases a character uses in dialogue so frequently they start to become annoying rather than a signature tick of the character.

2. Repetitive words, especially big interesting words. You will probably not be able to get away with “effervescent” twice in one chapter, nonetheless twice on a page or in a single paragraph.

3. Repetitive sentence structure: This can sound very monotonous; be sure to mix things up. Changing sentence structure will help immensely with the overall flow of your book, too.

4. Scene importance: Does the scene advance plot and/or character development (preferably both)? Or is the scene an indulgence? Cut all indulgences.

5. Pointless dialogue: There are just some things we don’t need to read right out of the characters’ mouths; also, no dialogue that conveys information those involved in the conversation already know.

6. Are descriptions filtered through your POV characters at all times? They should be.

7. Character growth: Is there any?

8. Passive voice: Are your sentences and word choices strong and specific? Or are you rambling around the point? Get to it. Using one specific word instead of five or six weaker words will strengthen your prose.

9. Writing ticks: I tend to write “where” when I mean “were” and vise versa (did that in the first draft of this article as a matter of fact). I have to triple check those in my edits. If you have a tick like this, watch for it.

10. Excessive us of “that” and “it”. Cut as many of these as you possibly can. Then cut more! They are almost always either unnecessary or too vague. This goes back to using specific language. Only use these two words when absolutely necessary!

11. You will notice the irony of this point after the previous paragraph (as well as the sensory detail point above). Cut out almost every single exclamation point. Relying on them weakens your writing, annoys readers and doesn’t always convey what you intend.

12. This leads to the next important elimination: adverbs and adjectives. Get rid of as many as you possibly can. Use specific, strong nouns and verbs and you won’t need modifiers. Or at least you’ll need a lot fewer. I’m not saying don’t use them at all. But the fewer you use, the stronger your writing will be.

13. Finally, look for the “little stuff” like typos, spelling mistakes (watch carefully for things spell check programs won’t catch like “their” when you mean “there” and “you’re” when you mean “your”—had that last in the earlier draft of this article, too), punctuation, paragraphing, formatting. Here’s where changing fonts can really come in handy.

[Again]…Editing a full novel is hard work. And there will always be more editing to do. At some point, you do have to let go and start sending the manuscript out to editors and agents. But before taking this leap, making your book as clean and sparkly as you possibly can will mark you as a writer to pay attention to, one not easy to reject. And the harder you make it on editors and agents to reject you, the better chance you have of achieving your dreams. Good luck!♥

Recommended Reading

SELF-EDITING FOR THE FICTION WRITER: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King (the second edition of this book was just released this year and is an excellent resource for self-editing)

WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass (this book and his other craft book below will help you pull out specific aspects of your novel that can make it great)


REWRITING SECRETS FOR SCREENWRITERS: Seven Strategies to Improve and Sell Your Work by Tom Lazarus (useful even for novel writers because of the specificity and compact nature of screenplays)

ON WRITING by Stephen King (because it’s good and will make you feel good about being a writer)

Isabo Kelly mostly builds fantasy, science-fiction and paranormal romance worlds in her fiction, with the occasional foray into something completely different. Her latest release is a contemporary set paranormal romance, CHRISTMAS PRESENT, which is Isabo’s small ode to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. For more about Isabo and her books, visit her at www.isabokelly.com, follow her on Twitter @IsaboKelly or friend her on Facebook www.facebook.com/IsaboKelly.


  1. A really worthy set of guidelines. Worthy enough for an exclamation point! And to be glued to the side of my computer screen. Many, many thanks.


  2. Thanks, John! Glad you found value in the list :-)

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