Wednesday, June 1, 2011

No EZ Pass for Novelists

by Saralee Rosenberg

A novel is written in drafts with good reason. The long process gives the author ample time to build their confidence by telling themselves (and anyone who will listen):

· This is total crap.

· The story is going nowhere.

· The dialogue is lame.

· Nobody will read this.

· I don’t even know what I’m trying to say anymore.

· I thought it was supposed to be a thriller, now it’s a comedy

· If I schedule my root canal, I won’t be able to work for a week

If you are a writer who is navigating their way through pages and pages of story in the hopes of miraculously running into a novel, sorry- EZ Pass is not accepted and there are no shortcuts. However, you can and should pull over every few miles (chapters) to assess your WIP (work in progress).

As a novelist and writing instructor, here are my recommended key questions to ask yourself:

1. ARE YOU BORED BY THE MC (MAIN CHARACTER)? Is this because the MC:

· Has inner and outer conflicts which remain a top secret?

· Lacks distinction (is he/she in need a personality makeover?)

· Is being overshadowed by a minor character who is getting the best lines

· Is taking the story in a different direction than you planned and you are so bummed about being lost that you can’t see you’re on a far better path?


· Stop! Was it the dialogue or the narrative that caused you to race through?

· Was there too little or too much story revealed?

· Is there a more concise/entertaining/exciting way to share the same information

YAWN ALERT: If you are bored by so much as a sentence, imagine the reader’s response.


· Have any of the characters seemed to have had lobotomies since they last appeared? In other words, are they speaking and/or behaving in ways that are very different from when they were originally introduced?

· Are the characters’ ages, occupations, physical traits, conflicts also consistent? For example, if your single, blonde protagonist suddenly has red hair and a fiancĂ©e, somewhere you took a wrong turn.

· Are you pulling the thread through so that the plot lines you developed in the first few chapters are still an integral part of the story? Or have you abandoned them, leaving the readers wondering?


· Is there a continual stream of inciting incidents and reveals? You don’t want the story flatlining- share, share, share

· Have you foreshadowed possible events or character introductions?

· Are you ending the chapters with dramatic cliffhangers?


· Readers almost never skip dialogue. Make it snappy.

· Make the characters so distinct that their spoken words are identifiable to them

· Cut off dialogue mid-sentence? Aen’t people always interrupting you?

· Does the dialogue ramble like an annoying Aunt? Chop, chop, chop.

· Any SAT words? Dump the dictionary and write as we speak.

In most cases you can detect the fatal flaws after you’ve returned to the material with fresh eyes and a tall latte. But in the event that you legitimately don’t know if the WIP is in decent shape, there is one sure fire test…

Put the material away for a few days to see if you are thinking about your characters and their conflicts. Are you getting fresh ideas or inspired by something you’ve read or heard? Do you wonder how they’re managing without you?

If you answered no, it’s possible that you’ve taken a wrong turn or several wrong turns.

· Review your character bios to see if you’ve left out any compelling facts

· Interview your main characters to probe what they’re hiding because if they are worthy, they are always hiding something

· Be honest. Are you still in love? If yes, revise, rewrite, rethink, reconsider… but don’t get out of the car.

Check me out.


  1. This is great stuff! Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  2. You are the bomb! Going to post this everywhere ...

  3. Love this! Hope I can print a copy to tack on my office bulletin board! Thanks, Saralee!

  4. Great advice, Saralee!! I love these tips. And now you've got me really thinking about my own WIP!!

  5. What excellent tips! Thanks for sharing, Saralee!

  6. Great road map Saralee! Now if I can just figure out how to fold it :)

  7. Wonderful post, Saralee. Thanks! Just what I needed!

  8. Saralee, this rocks! Must repost ASAP....

  9. Love it, Saralee!! Thanks for posting this ;).

  10. Ah-may-zing. Will post prolifically. xo

  11. Wow! Great post, Saralee! Your statements at the was like you were reading my mind. :) This is a must print for future reference. Thanks so much!

  12. This is a great list Saralee! thanks!