Questions for Pre-Reading of Novel Manuscripts

These are useful questions for pre-reading or self-editing of your novel. This chart is designed to have four rounds of readers. Ideally, the errors in the manuscript should be fixed for each section before reviewing the content in the next. But you should use or divide the questions however you find most helpful.

1st

  1. General understandability: Is it clear who’s speaking during dialogs? Is it clear who the narrator of each chapter is? Do the perspective changes make sense/are they easy to follow, or confusing?
  2. Continuity: Are there jumps in the narrative that don’t make sense? Is the order of events clear and represented logically? Do the chapter lengths and breaks help the flow or obstruct it?
  3. Plot structure: Are there oversights, jumps in logic, or holes in the plot? Is anything left unexplained? Is the conclusion predictable, trite, or too easy in any way?
  4. Surroundings: In each scene is it clear where the characters are and why? Does it make sense for them to be there? Does the setting match the actions that are taking place? Are there any pointless changes in scenery?
2nd
  1. Character arch: Are each characters motivations clear? Do their actions make sense in light of their motivations? If their motives are hidden/confused do they become clear by the end of the narrative? Are they satisfied (either negatively or positively)?
  2. Action: Is each plot turn set in motion by a character’s action, or as a result of a decision on their part?
  3. Pacing: Are there points you feel your attention lagging, or a desire to “just get on with it”? Do you ever feel left behind by the characters, in dialog or in plot turns? Is there a consistent flow of action/revelation or is it choppy/irregular overall? Within scenes?
  4. Dialog: Are the characters thoughts/emotion made clear through what they say? Do any of the dialogs feel ad-libbed or pointless?
3rd
  1. Character feel: Do the characters take shape in your head? Are they described well enough/early enough in the narrative? Do they have distinct personalities and attributes/ways of speaking?
  2. Voice: Does the tone of the narration resonate with what you know about each character? Is it appropriate in each scene for the action that’s happening? Does it set the tone or does it distract from the story?
  3. Threat: Is the threat obvious and realistic? Do the characters take it seriously enough, and if not, are there consequences? Do they make any dumb mistakes or unexplained actions in response to the threat?
  4. Information: Are facts revealed well and at the right time? Are there any “information drops” (too much revealed at once, or in an irrational way)? Is there any unnecessary information included? Does all the information agree?
4th
  1. Unfolding: After each scene, can you describe what’s happened and what has changed/been revealed? Are there any scenes where nothing changes or nothing new is learned?
  2. Relatibility: Are the characters likable? Are you interested in their story beyond the events of the book? Are there any scenes where your feelings about the events differed drastically from the protagonist’s?
  3. Romance: Was there enough romantic intrigue in the story? Did it fit? Did it enrich the story or detract from it? Did it feel natural considering the characters/context or did it seem artificial/unlikely?
  4. Engagement: Was the book easy to put down/hard to pick up? If you stopped reading in the middle of the action were you curious about what happened next? Were there any points in the story where you felt like you could leave without finishing it?
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