WRITING ANALYSIS CHECKLIST
taken from Jack Bickham‘s
TACTICAL ANALYSIS CHECKLIST
originally published in Writer’s Digest but altered to reflect my own writing prejudices
- Do your major characters seem to have sprung into the story from nowhere, or have you created a sense of personal history for them? DON’T TELL EVERYTHING YOU KNOW about the characters, but let what you know inform their dialog and action.
- Have you established credibility for your main characters’ motives, feelings, thought processes, actions, flaws, and necessary skills?
- Have you read the publication’s guidelines and, if possible, samples? Why waste postage or bandwidth submitting a Christian romance to Playboy?
- Is your work well-edited, using a firm grasp of standard grammar, punctuation, and spelling or, if you deliberately flout the rules, is it obvious that you do it for effect?
- Are character names sufficiently varied? (You don’t want Mary, Will, Bill, Maria, Anthony and Antoinette, unless you’re going for a specific effect.)
- Are your major characters vivid? If you portray your character as having one over-riding character trait (vanity, cruelty, compassion, denial), have you shown it consistently and strongly; if you have given your character a speech or action tag (repeating phrases unnecessarily, playing with her hair), have you repeated it often enough for the reader to identify it with the character but not so often as to be annoying, and have you used it effectively?
- What is the self-concept of each major character? Do they act consistently in terms of this self-concept? Do their story goals and how they try to achieve them match their self-concept? Do their occupations, hobbies, environments, etc. match their self-concept and, if not, how does this disconnect affect them? (Read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”)
- Do your characters speak realistically–interrupt, talk at cross-purposes, echo important words, or do they stand still and make speeches at one another? On the other hand, check to avoid the realistically dull and purposeless small-talk of everyday interchange.
- ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERS’ GOALS, OBSTACLES, AND TROUBLES CLEAR to you and the reader?
- If you have a single viewpoint character, have you “head-hopped” into the POV of another character? Have you described your viewpoint character’s emotional reaction from the outside (my face reddened) rather than from the inside (I felt my face heat up – or – I’ve been told I’m a blusher, and Gene’s triumphant grin told me I was doing it now).
- If you have more than one viewpoint character…do you need to? Would the story be told more strongly from one POV or from more than one?
- If the viewpoint character is not active and vital, is there a good reason for THIS to be the viewpoint character? (as in Henry James’ “Daisy Miller”)
- If the viewpoint character is not attractive or admirable, is he/she at least compelling or indispensable for the telling of this story?
- What is the story question? Is it introduced or at least foreshadowed early in your story? Is the question the focus of the story? Does the end deal with the question, whether it’s answered or not?
- Is each scene necessary? Does each scene advance the plot, expose or shape characters, strengthen an important sense of time/place/motivation, or more than one of these?
- Have you left out any scenes you need? Have you told something you should have made the reader experience, or is the scene better played off-stage?
- Have you introduced side-issues that have nothing to do with the plot, characterization, or theme? Have you left in remnants of a sub-plot you decided to cut?
- Is there a change by the end of the story? A change in attitude, situation, understanding?
- Are you playing with a lawsuit, copying a character who could be clearly identified as a real person who might take you to court, or using a real-life story or situation that might hurt someone?
- Does your story opening have a hook?
- Is your ending logically and emotionally satisfying, whether the ending is happy or not, whether the end “clicks” to closure or is open-ended?
- Are any passages over-written? (Over-writing means using more words, and fancier words, than is appropriate for the style and subject you’ve chosen.)
And always ALWAYS remember the one unbreakable rule of writing, the one thing you MUST do: Whatever works.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Take a short story you love and apply this checklist to it.