Self-evaluation for Writers: Part Two

In the second part of our series on self-evaluating your writing (read part one here), we tackle five more ways to objectively examine your own work.

Plot: Here is the unvarnished truth: many plots are simply boring. Often a novice writer will focus all of their energy into a single plot line and fill the space with the protagonist’s daily meanderings and plenty of internal questioning. If ever you have a character ask themselves more than two questions in a row, revise. No one does this in real life. How often do you ask yourself long, protracted, and fully-articulated questions about anything (outside a therapist’s office)?

On the opposite side is the common error of burdening your plot with tangential sub-plots, or too many twists. Not every potential storyline or plot point has to make it into this manuscript. If you have multiple storylines that cannot be succinctly described, then you’ve gone too far, friend! Instead of trying to do too much, consider splitting your work into more than one book, especially if juggling your many plot lines means there are dropped threads littering the landscape, leaving your reader out there, dangling or tangled, and losing the will to live.

Pace: You should unveil your story with the kind of speed that compels your reader to keep turning the pages, neglect their domestic tasks, and stay up too late. What speed specifically depends on the genre of your work—historical fiction will have a very different tempo than contemporary thrillers—but, generally, you can determine the appropriate pace through varying chapter lengths, paragraph structures, sentence composition, and dialogue. Especially “pacey” genres like suspense, mystery, and thriller, also make effective use of cliff-hangers, foreshadowing, bread-crumbing, and red herrings.

Style: Here is where your writing can shine. Not too much, mind you—the structure and language should not be so “bright” as to blind your reader. While we editor-types tend to swoon over the line-by-line beauty of the literary greats, ultimately, the writing should not distract from the story. So pump the breaks on any linguistic acrobatics, back away from the thesaurus, and write authentically, with a view to connecting with your reader. The writing should serve the story, and not the other way around.

Voice: Pick your narrative perspective. Is your novel told in third person or first person? Third-person POV is more commonly used because it gives the writer the most flexibility and control. First-person POV is immediate and solely in the head of the character, which can give the sense of intimacy but restricts the writer from everything but what the protagonist can know and experience in the moment. Consider the POV used most often in the published books of your genre. Voice is also dialogue, so work hard on delivering believable dialogue that either furthers the plot, develops your characters, or provides information to the reader.

Setting: Consider your setting a central character. Give the reader enough to picture where they are without getting bogged down in irrelevant details. Trust that we have seen many beautiful sunsets or sunrises in our own lives that we don’t need you to paint the sky for us with the colour primer dictionary. Similarly, don’t give us minute details of a character walking/driving to the store and everything they observe on their way, elaborate cooking and dressing rituals, and other mundane aspects of everyday life (this also slows down your plot as described above).

All of these aspects working together help make the unforgettable books that we love and recommend. Read and write on, and remember that we are happy to help with all elements of your narrative. Contact us for a free consultation to select the best service for your work.

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