Tuesday, September 6, 2016

9 40 Questions to Help You NAIL Your Manuscript

I'm in mid-epiphany on ONE AMONG US, so I'm going to wimp out today and do a repost of a craft post that I am revisiting this week to double check some things as I write. More on the epiphany later, but suffice it to say that it involves me being stupid and blind and making things as hard on myself as I possibly can, which is pretty much the story of my writing life. (And probably the life of every other writer.) Hopefully, I'll come out of it with some actionable advice to share at some point that will save someone else some pain. : (

Anyway, here's the repost. Whether you're a plotter or a pantser or something in between, these questions are helpful to get you started.


  1. How can I make the protagonist relatable to readers?
  2. Are both the protagonist and the antagonist extraordinary in some way?
  3. Do they both care passionately about something?
  4. Is what they care about at the heart of their opposition?
  5. Is the antagonist just as strong or even stronger than the protagonist and just as compelling or intriguing?
  6. Do all the main characters have genuine flaws and eccentricities? Are they real?
  7. Is there opposition between what the protagonist wants, her external goal, and what she needs, her internal goal?
  8. Is the protag going to experience a change of fortune: from good fortune to bad, from bad fortune to good, from good to bad to good, from bad to good to bad?
  9. How can I use the setting and season to make the situation worse for the protag?
  10. How can I make the setting more interesting and challenging?
  11. Are the protag and antag struggling within a situation readers haven't seen before?
  12. How can I elevate the concept? 
  13. What extra coolness factor can I add?
  14. What twist can I add to make this unusual?
  15. Are there logical connections between characters, plot, and theme(s)?
  16. Is the theme universal?
  17. Does the protag's struggle exploit a universal fear?
  18. Are there high stakes--terrible consequences--if the protag fails?
  19. Does she have to make an impossible choice or sacrifice that will make her pay personally before she can win against the antag?
  20. How can I provide a test at the beginning of the manuscript to show off the trait the protag needs to change before she can win?
  21. What makes her the way she is, and how can I show that to make her initial failure understandable and relatable?
  22. How can I make the stakes even higher at every turning point while keeping them relatable?
  23. Have I got enough of a coolness or fun factor in the mid section to sell the premise and carry the second act?
  24. How do I keep the protag in conflict between two emotions so she has to fight to resolve her feelings?
  25. How can I exploit the situation and main conflict to force the characters to make active choices?
  26. How can I limit each of the character’s choices to force them to choose between something bad and something worse, force them into bad decisions, or push them into doing what they least want to do?
  27. How can I make characters behave in the most unexpected way that fits within their motivation, personality type, and background?
  28. How do I introduce a new conflict before resolving an existing one?
  29. What danger can I keep threaten, what information can I promise, what expected emotional crisis, confrontation, loss, or decision can I foreshadow to keep the reader eager to read?
  30. How can I push an expected outcome into an unexpected direction?
  31. Before the climax, how do I make it clear why the antagonist is the way he is, and how do I make him sympathetic?
  32. How can I apply lessons the protag has learned and show her character growth in the climax in a way that will echo the test she failed at the beginning?
  33. How do I make it clear enough why she has changed enough to choose differently than she did in the initial test?
  34. Can I make every conflict in a subplot real and hard to overcome?
  35. How do I resolve all the subplots and weave them together more tightly?
  36. How do I show the arcs for each of the main characters?
  37. How do I most smoothly delivere all the missing information before the climax scene?
  38. How can I the climax the toughest challenge in the manuscript?
  39. How can I make the resolution truly satisfying?
  40. How do I make sure I've kept my covenant with the reader?

Writing Inspiration

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
                                                    ― Kurt Vonnegut, If This Isn't Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young

Visual Inspiration

Here's what's on my inspiration board for One Among Us this week:

About the Author

Martina Boone is the acclaimed author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016.

She was born in Prague in the shadow of a magical castle and grew up hearing stories about alchemists and hopeless dreamers, which may be  loves to write about romantic, magical worlds the lost characters who live in them.

She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.


  1. Thanks for posting this. Excellent list. Will share with my writing students.

    1. Thanks for sharing Carol! I learned a lot of this at YBB!

  2. It may be a re-post, but it's VERY helpful!!! Good to have as I near the end of my WIP. :) LOVE your inspiration board! Great photos.

    1. Yay! And I have to say it doesn't suck that we get to look at photos of handsome guys and call it research!

    2. I honestly don't know how you've managed to publish two books this year AND get another one written. Good on you! Good luck finishing up!

  3. Printed and in my writing craft binder! Awesomesauce.

    1. <3333333 I want to see this writing craft binder someday!


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