Members of my novel writing group developed this checklist to help us critically read each other’s work. If you are writing, perhaps this will help you move beyond your first draft. Another thing that we should all do is read more so that we do not simply reproduce the plots that are already written. Let’s expand our CI libraries by truly imagining something new!
- Is it obvious who is speaking?
- Is it obvious who pronouns (he, she, they) and possessive adjectives (his, her, their) refer to?
- Is there a level-appropriate balance of dialogue, narration, and description?
- Is dialogue style consistent and appropriate to the language?
- Do the chapters begin and end logically?
- Can the language be simplified?
- Is the vocab high frequency and/or integral to the story (and comprehensible)?
- Is the repetition of language too visible?
- Is there not enough repetition of language for the level the text is aimed at?
- Is the vocab choice a barely hidden agenda detracting from the story?
- Does the first chapter grab the reader?
- Does the writer intersperse story action with background and description, so the reader has to ‘pay’ for the action to continue by reading background information?
- Do conflicts resolve too easily? Do coincidences come out of the blue?
- Does the story flow well?
- Does the author need to brainstorm more imaginative ways to develop the story line?
- Do the chapters begin and end artfully?
- Are the last chapters unloved?
- Is there a forever long chapter?
- Do the illustrations support the story? Do they provide additional information?
Characters and themes
- Do characters have unique voices or do they all sound like the author?
- Do characters have consistent voices and develop in believable ways throughout the story?
- Can (should) the themes be sharpened?
- Does the cultural connection work with the story?
- Are there other barely hidden agendas that annoy readers such as lectures about cultural differences, political correctness?
- Are there stereotypes or cliches?
- Is the representation of “the other” problematic?
- Has this story been written before? Can we push it further into a new set of ideas?
Representation of diversity
- Is the romantic subplot really necessary to tell this story?
- Can hetero-normative plot lines be replaced with plot lines that do not suggest a particular gender orientation?
- Are there white-normative assumptions built into the story?
- If it takes place in Latin America or Africa, are descriptions of poverty and/or violence necessary for the development of the plot?
- If it takes place in France, are descriptions of cheese necessary for the development of the plot? 🙂
- Do illustrations depict a multicultural universe?