There are a few things that every story needs in order to captivate a reader’s interest. In this post I will offer you a story checklist of the essential pillars you need in your story. This checklist will be most helpful during the revising process. However, the points that are listed below can be useful to have in mind before you write your first draft as well.
Are you excited? Good. Here we go:
- Does your protagonist have a goal to drive him/her forward? If not, make sure he/she does.
- Does your protagonist have a clear arc demonstrating his/her change and/or growth? If not, make sure he/she changes in some way and that the reader can see the change.
- How many other important characters does your story have? How do they contribute to your protagonist’s journey? They are not particularly important characters if they don’t contribute to your protagonist’s journey. Evaluate these characters and if they are necessary to the story at all.
- How many minor characters does your story have? Are they explored in too much detail and therefore take away focus from the important events of your story? If so, you can either make a minor character a more important character that is more involved in the story — and have him/her contribute to your protagonist’s journey — or you’ll have to take focus away from the minor character to center the attention on the important events of your story.
- Are any of your characters clichéd or stereotypical? How can you change this?
- Does any of your characters play a surprising role at the end? This is not necessary, but it will add an interesting twist to the end of your story.
- Have you given the reader enough information about the background of your characters (family, education, important events, etc.) so that the reader understand them? If not, make sure that the reader will understand your characters.
- How have you given the information about your characters to the reader? Have you sprinkled it throughout the novel or in bigger info-dumping chunks? You should aim for the sprinkled version.
- Does your characters behave in ways that are consistent with their backgrounds? If not, make sure they do either by changing their background information or their actions and behaviors.
- Does your story have a setting? If not, make sure to create one.
- Does the setting contribute something to your story, like enhancing the plot? If not, make sure it does.
- Do you introduce your setting with too much description all in one go (info dump)? If so, make sure that your sprinkle descriptions of the setting throughout the text.
- Have you paid enough attention to the smells and sounds in your setting? If not, make sure that you do because smell and sound are important in order to create an atmosphere.
- Is your setting memorable and does it fit the mood of your story?
- Does the first part (Act I) of your story set up the problem (main conflict) and create tension? If not, make sure that it does.
- Does the second part (Act II) of your plot deepen the problem and challenge your protagonist? If not, make sure that it does.
- Does the third part (Act III) of your plot provide a resolution, and if so, how does it affect your protagonist? If not, make sure that it does. And make sure that the whole journey to this point had affected your protagonist in a big way (good or bad).
- Does your subplots advance the plot? Are they eventually resolved? If not, make sure that they both advance the plot and are resolved. Tie up all loose ends. (However, if you’re writing a series where the subplot in one book will be resolved in the beginning of the next book — or even developed into becoming the main plot of the next book — you may be excused for leaving this particular subplot unresolved.)
- Are there any scenes that do not serve the plot? Even if they are written well, you need to consider cutting them.
- Do you rush through the main events? If so, consider slowing down when writing the main events so that they won’t take the form of a summary.
- Is it easy to follow the passage of time throughout the story?
- Which point-of-view are you using? What are the benefits of this point-of-view?
- Do you have one or several point-of-view characters? Would your story be better if you stuck with a single point-of-view character? Change your story to fit your answers.
- Is the point-of-view consistent throughout your story?
- Is your choice of words right for your point-of-view character?
- If you’re using first person point-of-view (”I”), does your point-of-view character know or see things that he/she couldn’t realistically know or see? If so, cut all of this out.
- Does each character’s speech fit their personality and history? If not, you need to revise the dialogue.
- Does your dialogue sound natural? Have you incorporated body language where necessary? If not, revise it. Body language is necessary to show what a character is feeling or what kind of state-of-mind he/she is in.
- Would your dialogue sound more realistic if you used more contractions?
- Do you use commonplace dialogue (hello, goodbye, yes, no, etc.), and if so, does it add to the dialogue? Can your dialogue do without it?
- Have you filled your dialogue with unnecessary explanation? (Example: ”You son of a bitch!” he yelled angrily.)
- How many -ly adverbs (angrily, happily, sadly, etc.) have you used? Are there too many? If so, revise.
- Are you using dialogue as info dumps? If so, revise.
There you have it, the ultimate story checklist. I hope this will help you craft an amazing story.
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