Critiquing Your Novel 101

So I recently finished my fantasy YA novel, and I’m cracking my knuckles to start. What do I do first?

1) I break every single chapter into its own file. This way I can move about the book quicker, surgically remove/control the content (I write in a very action/reaction style: Character has a minor conflict, pursues conflict, resolves conflict by the end of the chapter). If the chapter isn’t needed, I can remove it entirely. No harm done.

MUCH easier to handle than the full 225-page document. I get lost easily otherwise.

So I have 32 chapters and 32 files. I can clearly see where the drama is lacking, where the minor conflict has nothing to do with developing the character or story, and I can remove if needed.

2) Make a list of all loose ends/all ideas that have come to me between the end of the story and now. This list is VITAL to my restructuring, because it often adds the details required to flesh out the story (an example: David needs to receive a letter from his father halfway through the summer camp. I forgot to add that in in the initial writeup, so I have to make a point to do this now). This list works BEST as written on a sheet of paper so you can PHYSICALLY look at it and mark things off. Nothing more vitalizing to a writer than making progress on a checklist.

I tend to do a lot of passive research while writing, about certain concepts/ideas (like how a block 5 school system works), and I gather a lot of information in the meantime. It’s a great thing to have ready when I begin my rewrite (I changed scenery from El Malpais in New Mexico to a fictional island off Oregon, mostly because my environment had a lot of rain, and New Mexico only has a rainy season).

3) Begin rewrite. As I go, I do what my best friend Marty did in high school when he read a book: write up a list of all the characters I come across, major or minor, and keep that list updated. Again, put this on a loose sheet of paper so you don’t have to alt-tab every time to write something down. It breaks the rhythm of the read.

These characters are important, because sometimes I write about characters that disappear as the story progresses. Also, if I have a lot of characters (as this book does), I confuse the dialogue easily by not placing as many dialogue tags. These names are literally symbols for your characters, and their personalities should stay consistent (or decidedly progressive) throughout the story.

4) Take a break after every 2-3 chapters. Grab a bottle of water, take a quick walk, shoot some bad guys (but not too many) on the video games, and return to work: studies show that a person’s mind works the best in 20-30 minute spurts. I’m certainly not saying to distract yourself if you don’t want to: if you feel inspired, dive in.

My fiancee doesn’t let me work more than 45 minutes at a go before she taps into the room and wants a hug. When I’m writing, this is kryptonite. When I’m proofreading my work, it’s a godsend. Let your environment invigorate you.

5) Some of my best writing has come during my rewrites. Don’t be afraid to add paragraphs, scenes, chapters to the book. I always, always prefer to overdo input than underdo it. I can always trim the fat.

My first rewrite is always about tying loose ends, adding detail, and finishing the fundamental, physical level of the book. Themes, complexities in story, shining the shoes of plot  all come in the second rewrite.


5 thoughts on “Critiquing Your Novel 101

  1. Sounds like a really great method! It’s definitely important that writers not be afraid to add and change things when rewriting, rewrites are what make a story great!

  2. Ugh, it’s been a nightmare trying to leave a comment on this blog…


    I like this. One of the hardest parts about writing a long piece is the organization. Just thinking about trying to maintain consistent pace, action, and voice for 200+ pages seems an insurmountable challenge. But breaking it up like how you described seems like a good way to do that.

    Also, do you keep track of how many words you write per day (or per writing session) and if so, what’s your average?

    • Hey Brannon. Sorry about the hoops you had to jump through to get a comment on here. First-time noters require approval from me, or else I have fifteen spam comments a day. It doesn’t look pretty.

      I only note the words if I’m feeling particularly inspired that day, or have a major goal to fulfill. I’d say, on average, I write 3-5k a day when I’m putting my nose to the grindstone, but I’m one of those freak writers that write a book in two months and then take a month off. I burn out easily, so I burn hard when I can.

      I write twice-three times a week. The rest of the time I’m doing other things in the evening. Like Queer Eye or bonfires.

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