A fully-developed manuscript will be rich from beginning to end, from the big to the small. How does yours hold up to this eight-part check?
To be considered “well-developed,” your manuscript should be complete. This means all your chapters are fleshed out, all the characters are in place, and the story arc is clear. At this mark in the book-writing process, you should have resolved all major questions about main events and outcomes. Your story should feel like history.
All of the parts of a story are important, but the most important are:
- Inciting Incident
- Genre Expectations
These key parts of your book shape your story arc and all the details that flow from it. That’s why it’s important to check your finished manuscript to make sure your story holds up.
Parts 1-3 help you take a critical look at your highest levels of story organization and meaning. 4-7 identify how you are expressing your key elements. Item 8 invites you to take an in-depth look at your writing and storytelling style.
1. Is your concept as strong as possible?
The first thing you need for a great story is a big, book-supporting concept. Is yours strong and well developed? Do you sufficiently and creatively support it in your text?
2. How’s your scope?
To see the scope of your story, draw a conceptual circle around all your content. What’s in and what’s out? How does everything inside the circle link up? Scope is defined by you, your story design choices, and your audience. Did you write genre fiction, literary fiction, or an experimental work? If it’s genre fiction, have you met all the expectations? If you wrote literary fiction, is the work packed with the internal thoughts of characters and elevated language? If it’s an experimental piece, how do the ways you departed from the norms elevate the meaning? Are all your design choices solid?
3. Do you have the substance for a rich and balanced synopsis?
If you have great story substance, you’ll be able to craft a compelling summary. A book synopsis tells your plot from start to end. Is everything in place and balanced?
4. How good is your final scene?
The best test of any story is the emotional impact of the last scene. To have a great ending scene, you need to have a great story. Will readers feel satisfied? How strong is your unity of effect?
5. Does your opening grab attention?
The opening of your story leads the way to the ending — so how well does it work? You must get so much right to hook a reader. How do your opening and ending mirror each other? All the rest of your story must fit in between.
6. Is the promise of your inciting incident fulfilled by the climax?
A more specific test of the marriage of the start and end of your story, how well does your inciting event match your climax moment like a bookend? The inciting event is a promise and the climax moment is the delivery. Everything in between is a bridge between these two story-defining moments.
7. Are you writing to reader expectations?
If you are writing genre fiction, did you meet the expectations of your readers and the genre? If it’s a murder mystery, how well did you deliver on the obligatory scene in which the body is found? If it’s a romance, how good is the first kiss? If it’s a hero’s journey story, how terrifying and clever is the villain’s monologue? Making sure you cover the expected bases while giving readers something memorable is core to a great read.
8. How’s your style?
Your style must be consistent and yours. You want a great voice as an author. Pick your best-developed scene and look carefully at your style. Do you have the mood and tone you hoped for? Do all the characters have unique voices? Is your story-specific vocabulary rich and readable? Your entire draft needs to be infused with your style throughout.
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Once your landmark book-places are done, spend time considering your story as a whole. Read it in sequence — don’t dip in and out. You now need to finalize all the links and connections between parts, match every set-up to a pay-off, and the exact order of every bit of content must be perfect.
A well-developed draft is the foundation for polishing up your substance and style. It’s the time to make the story more of what it is, close any last gaps, and get it ready for publication.
Dawn Field (July 20, 1969 – May 2, 2020)
In late 2015, Dawn Field submitted her first post to the BookBaby Blog. A molecular biologist, Senior Research Fellow of the NERC Centre of Ecology and Hydrology, guest professor at the University of Goeteborg in Sweden, and co-author of the book, Biocode: The New Age of Genomics, Dr. Field came to us hoping to find a forum to share her experience and love of language with an audience of writers. While many unsolicited submissions don’t quite meet the needs (or standards) of our readers, something about Dawn’s writing stood out. I posted the article, and to my grateful amazement that initial contribution flourished into a five-year collaboration resulting in nearly 100 posts published on the BookBaby Blog. Sadly, on May 2nd, a voice that was an inspiration to so many of us in the self-publishing community was lost when Dr. Field suddenly and tragically passed away at the age of 50. We will continue to publish the pieces Dawn had submitted (she was always months ahead of schedule) in honor of her commitment to teaching and to the craft of writing. Rest in peace, Dawn.
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