Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "I'm not a romantic soul, but my readers will want romance"
Too much meringue

Eighteen questions to ask your story

If you try answering these for a favourite book you'll find that you can, from Hamlet and Pride and Prejudice to Heart of Darkness and To The Lighthouse, so why not try it on your own? They're deliberately bald, because there aren't only many different answers, there are different kinds of answer, depending on what your project is with the novel. But answers there should be:

Who is telling this story?

Why are they telling it?

Where do they stand in time and space, relative to the events and settings they're narrating?

Which characters' heads can they get inside?

Which characters' voices do they allow to colour their storytelling?

How much do they know that no character knows at the time, or no character notices?

What is the fundamental question or problem that the first page poses?

How does the story make that question or problem ever more urgent and important?

How is the question answered or that problem solved on the last page?


What does your main character/s know that they want or need?

What do they want or need, but don't know they do?

How do they act to get what they need?

What external things get in the way?

What internal things get in the way, and do they realise it?

What do they do to overcome/avoid/escape/accommodate those obstacles?

What is at stake, to make them try so hard to get what they need?

What is the shape of the disaster that's waiting if they don't get it?

What has changed, in and for your main character, by the end of the story?

So, what were your answers? If you don't think any given question is relevant, dare I suggest that you check whether it really isn't, or whether it's the resistance talking? As with murdering darlings, could it be that for some reason you don't want to re-work things to the point where there is a clear answer to that question? Be honest, now...