Cheat Sheet

Writing a Novel and Getting Published For Dummies

Novel writing is a most rewarding but challenging experience (even for seasoned authors). Keep this checklist by your side as you finish off your writing and start to approach publishers.

The Checklist for Writing a Novel and Getting Published

Don’t fall down on the easy stuff. If you’re writing a novel and sending your manuscript to a publisher, it has to be in perfect shape. Make sure that you can tick every box before you consider your novel completely finished.

Technical

  • Have you run a spell check on your entire manuscript? (If you have problems with the passive voice, run a grammar check too.)

  • Have you made sure that character names and place names are consistent throughout?

  • Is the chronology correct?

Language

  • Is the language in your novel clear and understandable?

  • Did you make sure that the text isn’t overly complex, verbose, patronising or obscure?

  • If more than one comma is in a sentence, should it be two sentences?

  • If you use more than one adverb and adjective in any sentence, are you sure you need them? In fact, is every one of them necessary?

Character

  • Are all your novel's characters utterly necessary? Would the story be tidier or faster if a minor character was removed or merged with another?

  • Are all the characters easily distinguished from each other? If you have two characters, both aged 30 with red hair, both married to tall men called John, one called Marion and the other Miriam, merge them into one.

  • Do you have a strong main character?

  • Does the reader have a reason to identify with the main character? (Remember, ‘identify with’ isn’t the same as ‘like’. We only need to be interested in the characters and want to know what happens to them, we don’t necessarily have to fall in love with them.)

  • Does your protagonist have a strong antagonist; someone who wants the opposite of what they want?

Style

  • Have you checked that, wherever possible, you’re ‘showing’ and not ‘telling’?

  • Is your text colourful in the sense that it isn’t unrealistically simplistic? Things in real life are rarely pure and seldom simple. If you present them as such, your book won’t seem realistic.

Theme

  • Does your book have a theme?

  • Does it say something about something, whether implicit or explicit?

  • Do you know what sort of book you’ve written?

  • What genre (or genres) does it fall into?

  • Does your book have the characteristics of that genre, and if not, what have you put in their place to keep the reader interested?

Dialogue

  • Is the dialogue within your novel realistic?

  • Do you use ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ instead of ‘he expostulated’ and ‘she exclaimed’ and as sparingly as possible, only to make it clear who’s talking?

  • Do all the characters sound individual, or do they all sound the same?

  • If the characters are all the same age and social background, have you put in phrases and individual modes of speaking to help the reader tell them apart?

The Structure of Your Novel Checklist

The structure is the backbone of a book: beneath the surface, it holds everything together and imposes order on the flow. Without a coherent and logical structure, the novel’s key elements are unclear.

You may need to play around with the structure before you feel it’s right. Don’t be afraid to experiment! The process helps to refine your thoughts about other aspects of the book, and the message you’re trying to get across.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are the chapters linked and do they flow?

  • Does the story fall broadly into three acts?

  • Is the general direction of the story ‘up’?

  • Is the tension intensifying, the emotional temperature rising, the level of danger increasing, the pain deepening, the likelihood of things going wrong nearing?

  • Are the promises you made to the reader through foreshadowing kept?

  • Are all the plots and subplots relevant?

  • Can you sum up your story in a sentence? Can a reader?

  • Is your first sentence or paragraph a grabber?

  • Does the story start in the right place? Starting too early means the beginning will be dull; start too late and the story won’t make sense.

  • Does every sentence serve a purpose? Does it advance the plot, explain character or create atmosphere? (Ideally, all three!) If it does none of these, what’s your justification for keeping it?

  • Does every scene have a purpose? Does it advance the story? If not, why is it there?

  • Does every chapter end in a way that makes the reader want to turn the page?

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