How to Be Your Own Book Doctor
“If you Google ‘book doctor’ you’ll get pages of folks willing to analyze your book and tell you what’s wrong with it. While this might be a helpful option for some, not everyone can afford to pay for this type of advice. But never fear, because with a little objectivity (and a plan), you can give your novel a checkup all on your own.
One of the reasons a good book doctor is so successful, is that they look at a story without all the emotional baggage us authors bring to our own work, and can analyze the critical elements of good storytelling. (We love our words. Our words are perfect, aren’t they?)
The first step is to look at your manuscript as if you’ve never read it before. This is hard because you do know your story, so let it sit for a month or two before taking a hard look at it. That will give you some distance so it’s not fresh in your mind. And be ruthless. Pretend you paid good money for this book, and you want it to be worth every penny. What’s not working?
Is the Tone Consistent?
Tone helps hold a novel together, like a soundtrack playing in the background. It tweaks the emotion at the right moment and nudges the reader toward what you want them to feel. If you’re writing a light and funny romance, your book had better be light and funny. Long, angst-ridden passages probably aren’t hitting the right vibe and might need to go. In horror novels, scary scenes played for laughs can leave your reader feeling like you’re making fun of them and not taking your own work seriously. Consider:
- Does the opening scene convey the tone of the novel?
- Is that tone consistent throughout the book?
- Does the imagery and word choice reflect this tone?
- Does the tone change over the course of the novel? Should it?
- Does the tone enhance individual scenes to bring about the desired impact on the reader?
Is the Theme Clear?
Theme is the unifying force in a novel. It’s what the book is about, and without it, a story can feel shallow at best, pointless at worst. Themes are what keeps a reader thinking about the book long after they’ve put it down. Consider:
- What is the theme (or themes)?
- Are there examples of this theme throughout the novel?
- How does the theme deepen the character arcs?
- Is the theme stated clearly in the opening chapters of the novel?
- Does the theme tie into the resolution of the novel?”