* Form & genre Are you sure this is (not) a memoir, essay, short story, novel, poem, film? Are conventions observed efficiently? If deviating, do we do so in a desirable way?
* Theme & symbol How are important aspects of content working subconsciously? Look up the etymology of key words, and unpack their history and meaning for your book.
* Narrative & dramatic focus What’s at stake? What type of story is this? What’s your slant on your content? What’s the final payoff?
* World-building What is your setting? And how are your characters’ stories grounded in time and place?
* Characters Credible? Interesting? Too many/few? Adequately motivated? Can we gain from having a clearer protagonist or antagonist? Are your characters’ internal, interpersonal, and/or societal antagonisms adequately drawn and connected?
* Change What are basic conflicts, antagonisms or changes?
Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing. Change is the universal aspect of all these sources of story. Story is something moving, something happening, something or somebody changing.
– Ursula Le Guin, Steering the Craft
Narrative Style 1: The Bigger Picture
* Voice & mood Does the voice bring the story to life? Are the mood and tone captivating? Does the tone convey the right emotions?
* Structure & pacing Do we have a beginning, middle, end? Is the opening strong? Does plotting unfold with appropriate narrative/dramatic tension in the rising action? Is the ending rewarding?
* Length & scope Is the story too short or too long relative to its content? Are there too many/too few ingredients? Do ingredients achieve appropriate texture and density?
* Point of view & narrating stance Where is the piece being narrated, and by whom? Is this stance appropriate and used to full effect (e.g., with dramatic irony)? Do we need a narrator, or a more obvious narratorial presence?
Narrative Style 2: The Telling Details
* Suspense & withheld information What is revealed when, and how, and by whom? And to characters, as well as to readers? Could plot reveals take place sooner or later? Is why or how more interesting than what? And: what mysteries can remain unspoken?
* Showing vs telling Do the degrees of showing and telling achieve a successful balance of narrative tension? Can the scene-setting of foreground action be appropriately balanced with narrative summary? Are scenes too crowded, or thinly drawn? Is a sense of storytelling achieved?
* Interior vs exterior action Do scenes of external action convey enough of the story? Are internal reflections balanced and interesting? What drifts? What lifts?
* Tense The immediacy of present tense? Or the fuller possibilities of a wider range of tenses?
* Dialogue Engaging? Overdone? Realistic? Forward-moving? Avoiding info dumps?
* Description Is detail revealing? Too much? Too little? Sufficiently specific and concrete?
Prose Style & Voice
* Style Imagery, symbolism, figures of speech, sound effects, word choices? Clunkiness, thinness, overwriting? Is the style appropriate to the content?
* Syntax Understand the workings of parts of speech. Verbs bring energy. Circle every verb in a piece: check how they’re working. Are main verbs strong and purposeful? Are passive verb forms necessary? If a sentence has more than one verb, can each justify being there? Nouns anchor us: use good ones. Maybe eliminate every adverb and adjective, and restore only the essentials. Look for choppy sentences or repetitions, but don’t torture your language to avoid a simple word repetition that probably won’t hurt.
* Economy Make simple cuts of unnecessary explanations and boring transitions. Readers will do much of the work, and beta readers can tell you if anything needs clarification. The principle of sufficiency is an important one (e.g., in creating mood).
* Check spelling & punctuation. And turn on spellcheck & grammarcheck for one last trawl: tinkering can render sentences incomplete, and fixes are needed.
Related link: Suggestions For Self-Editing.
Revised and updated 20 September 2016.