1. Does the summary (also known as the book blurb or jacket synopsis) hint at the story and / or introduce the book's dramatic question?
- A dramatic question is what keeps the story going and keeps us turning pages to find the answer, like "will the hero find the bomb in time to detonate it?" or "will the main character find true love despite everything that happens?" Some writers call it the spark, or the hook.
2. Is the opening line of the book a strong one that draws interest? Or does it dip into setting or exposition without hinting immediately (and concisely) that something of great importance is happening, is about to happen, or has just happened? Is there a point to the actual description, aside from showing us where and when? If not, it's boring and should not be the actual focus of the first paragraph(s). In this case, add the setting in small doses between whatever is actually going on, as embellishment to the moving emotional state of the character, or as seasoning to the opening action. Make sure you never have a static opening.
3. Does the opening paragraph draw interest or curiosity? Or does it just dive into the "bobbing heads syndrome", where characters are talking and you have trouble relating to them or caring for them for a few pages? Or, does it begin flopping about like a dead fish with pretty prose or circular, not immediately important, description? Fix this, or many of your prospective readers will drop your book. There doesn't have to be action, but reveal tension and apprehension from the very first line / paragraph / page / chapter. Always consider this: How do I hook a reader from Word One?
- This step gives ideas on how to fix any weak spots in your own works, and it helps you to figure out what type of advice to give on others' works. AVOID LAGGING IN THE FIRST FIVE PAGES. The first five pages of a manuscript is one of the most important parts, where agents and publishers accept or deny, and it's where most readers keep the book or drop it. It is just as important as the synopsis on the jacket, and the cover image and title.
5. Does each chapter have some small theme or question that keeps interest and draws you to want to read farther? Are these questions related in some way to the main goal of the characters throughout the book? Are they related to, or revolve around, the big picture for this book? How do they apply to the questions driving the series? How do the questions change over the course of the book as the characters and situations change?
- Themes are things like "good versus evil", "rags to riches", "racial issues", "the bonds of family love", etc. Click here for the link to my themes page on my tumblr profile for some common book themes that will aid you in refining your own. Themes are one of the things agents and publishers look for, and they are one of the ways in which readers relate to the books they read. You want your story to have high impact, right?
5. Do the descriptions need some extra work? Suggestions for improvement? Is it excessive in the wrong places? Does it make your scenes lag in bad places? Do the descriptions have undertones of tension or micro tension (as described by Donald Maas in his Writing 21st Century Fiction)? I recommend that book highly, by the way. It'll make things clearer for you than ever before.
6. What was your favorite / least favorite part of the book? How can it be improved? How can you turn it on its head?
7. How far did you write before it became difficult? Or, if you are a reader analyzing a work, how far did you read? The end? The middle? Do you think you'll continue reading this author, or writing this book or series? Why? What makes you passionate about it? What is the work trying to say about life in general?
8. How highly do you recommend this book to other readers? Scale from 1 to 5, if 5 is the highest. How is your own work like this one? How is it different? Where do you fail where this one succeeds? Where do you succeed where this one fails?
- This is a useful tool if you are doing reviews or want to revisit a work later for more analysis. You can thumb through some of these notes in order to remind yourself what to strengthen.
9. Does the ending satisfy you? How? Is it because enough of the underlying questions were answered? (Like "Did the vampires find him?" or "Did she get the guy?" or "Was the world saved?") Did you get the ending you expected? Did it blow your expectations in a good way, or a bad way?
- If you're writing - Pick a different ending. The first ending you choose can be very, very wrong because likely, it will be what the reader predicts. Even if you choose to stick to your original idea, how can you add a new twist to it? What did the endgame cost? What has the character had to sacrifice in order to finally achieve his or her goal? And, how does that character apprehend this change? A twist like this, under the skin of everything else that is more obvious, will give the story even more meaning.
10. Does the story feel too short or too long? Can you explain what you feel is missing or what is too much? If you read through the story during edits or other revision processes, are their places that you begin skimming over or have trouble focusing on? Can you pair down anything that is excessive, circular, redundant, too purple (as in purple prose--look it up if you are not sure), or not focused enough? Are there places where only one goal is obvious, or one single risk, and nothing else?
- Cut anything that meanders off point--like excessive sub plots that don't ultimately affect the book's main plot, but which are in there anyway because they were awesome. (Save those for another story! Or use them for free short stories to boost traffic to your stuff that is going to be on sale.) Cut excessive backstory or exposition. If you want exposition, create some side reading for readers who are interested, and publish those separately. Detailed maps, concept art, genealogies, histories, et cetera. Don't bog down the progress of your story by delving into a bunch of information that will only serve to get the reader to forget what is currently happening in the book.
- If it is too short, add more. Go more in depth. Begin asking "What If?" Always imagine the worst. Throw your character through a physical wringer as well as an emotional one. Give the hero goals that contradict one another, and needs that make achieving those goals almost impossible. Make the hero war with himself. Turmoil and conflict. Use it.
- Look at what happened in Chapter Eight; begin weaving hints of what is coming earlier in the book, like, say, Chapter Two. Shift some of the character's ideas / morals / goals. Make their original internal compass completely the opposite. This will make change more difficult, more interesting, and more wrought with turmoil and conflict. This is how you insert micro-tension and contrast, both of which are gold nuggets for writing. The two convey change and motion even when there really isn't any.
11. What do you think were some other themes throughout the book, aside from the main one earlier?
12. What do you think the main dramatic question might have been?
- Sometimes this can be guessed by the genre, as Romances are often about whether or not the woman and / or her lover can conquer that which threatens to keep them apart . In a Thriller, it may instead be: Will John diffuse the bomb in time to save the city?
13. What genre do you think this book belongs to, and in what age group?
- Does the story's tone and the writer's voice appeal perfectly to that age group?
- Is the writing too mature?
- Too old in style? (Easy fix here, just pair down, simplify, and modernize your phrases and words a bit. Only retain hints of the older style, and it will come across as archaic while also remaining understandable.)
- Too technical? Tone down the jargon, but make sure your facts are right.
- Too immature? (I'm sure, if you've ever been on Wattpad, you will have found books containing adult characters who pout and huff and stomp their feet like children, or who think the first kiss is the ultimate "encounter" of any relationship. Ever. And that once the first kiss is given, a character is ruined, becoming a pariah to all chaste beings everywhere, and numb to all other advances or proclamations of love. Although some of them can have a first kiss with another character that is just as "amazing".)
If you guys want a more extensive list of questions to consider while you are reading or writing, let me know and I will compile a more comprehensive one for you. This was kind of basic.
If you really want to know the ins and outs of every successful commercially published bestselling work of fiction, I still recommend Donald Maas's Writing 21st Century Fiction. It is very, very informative. Click the link below to find it on Amazon.