1. If the scene doesn’t move the story closer to a resolution, get rid of it. I wrote the funniest chapter and was even laughing at it myself during the third reading. Both people critiquing my work identified that chapter as laugh out loud hilarious. It was a real gem… that’s right “was”. The scene did absolutely nothing to move the plot along. It was like a side show at the circus. Now it’s gone, waiting to be turned into a short story, or it may show up in a future novel.
2. Get the point across in fewer words. Seems simple enough, but by reading the chapters out loud I could tell where extra words were clogging the story… cut … cut … cut.
3. Would an 11-year-old really say that? I’ve spent a lifetime around this age group and I still find some sentences sounding like my voice instead of the characters. This is a tough one to overcome, but my errors often come to light when I choose a random scene to read, or better yet, let a kid tell me what looks suspicious.
4. Get a beginning, middle and end. Sure your story has them, but what about each chapter? I found many chapters that were missing one or all of those essential components.
5. Put it away. Go to work, do yard work, take a walk, write another blog post. Getting that emotional distance from a story will only make it better when you return. How long is long enough? I found a week at a minimum, but have lasted as long as a month.
Doing these five things will get your story ready for curtain time.