Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “There is but one art, to omit.” He obviously appreciated the power of polish. I call polishing powerful, because it has the ability to transform a rough draft into
something remarkable—something salable. After I complete a rough draft I go over it quite a few times, checking for problems, large and small. Here are 40 power-polishers from my personal list. 

  1. Did I sprinkle in backstory like a fine spice or did I dump the whole jar in at the beginning? 
  2. Do my characters have plenty of quirks and ticks like real people? 
  3. If I repeated words are they beautifully rhythmic or just annoyingly repetitious? 
  4. Is it clear which characters are talking, or will readers need to stop to figure it out? 
  5. If I altered anything midway—a character’s hair color, the season of the year, etc.—did I make those changes all the way through the manuscript? 
  6. Did I check each “was” and “were” as well as other potentially scrawny verbs? Do some of them need to be removed from the herd? 
  7. Is the word “that” used so much that readers will become so weary of that that they’ll want to use my novel for kindling? 
  8. Have I included literary devices such as sensory details, foreshadowing, irony, metaphors, and similes to give my story depth and delight? 
  9. Did I dip so randomly and deeply into the barrel of limp and colorless adjectives and adverbs that my prose came out hopelessly anemic?
  10. Are the elements of action, description, and dialogue balanced in my story? 
  11. Is my point of view consistent, or will I confuse readers by head-hopping? 
  12. Is the setting in each scene well-defined? 
  13. Are my characters unforgettable and believable, or are they one-dimensional and uninspiring because I haven’t spent enough time getting to know them? 
  14. Are my heroine and hero relatable and likable? Do they have enough noble and endearing qualities—along with their flaws—to make readers want to cheer them on? 
  15. Will readers know the year, the season, and the time of day easily, or are these story elements too vague? 
  16. Does my timeline have inconsistencies? 
  17. Did I vary the length of sentences in my paragraphs so they’re eye-appealing and easy to read? Are my paragraphs so long they’re like a wall of words in need of mental climbing gear? 
  18. How is my pacing? Is there a good rhythm to my storytelling? Are there passages I need to slow down or speed up for effect?
  19. Do I have too many summary paragraphs? Do some segments need to be revised so I’m showing and not telling? 
  20. Does my work have the fine brushstrokes of subtext dialogue?  
  21. If I’ve written in first person does it look like there was an “I” explosion all over the manuscript?
  22. If the professions and hobbies of the main characters are important to the story will the readers get a good look into this part of their lives? Was this material presented in a way that is organic to the story, and did I check the information for accuracy? 
  23. Is my dialogue realistic and interesting or mind-numbingly boring? 
  24. Do my characters have occasional and natural interruptions in their speech without being confusing?
  25. Have I taken out unnecessary words, such as some, began to, just, rather, and all at once?
  26. Does every scene have some element of suspense or conflict or intrigue? 
  27. Is each and every scene important to the overall plot, or have I padded the novel to up my word count? 
  28. Are some of my chapters too long?
  29. Do all my chapters end with cliffhangers?
  30. When my character presents a potent line of dialogue, do I use it later to make an arc that is memorable and effective? 
  31. Do I have a sagging middle that’s in need of a few tummy tucks of story tension? 
  32. Did I succumb to the temptations of authorial intrusion? 
  33. Do my characters make gestures that reflect their personalities, and are those gestures fresh and unique? Or are my characters engaged in too much shrugging, sighing, lip chewing, nodding, brow furrowing, arm crossing, throat clearing and head shaking?
  34. If I’ve added humor to my novel, does it fit the characters, and does it flow with the rest of the work? 
  35. Do the elements of faith happen naturally in the story, or did I toss in some prayer and Scripture to make it sound Christian? 
  36. Are the themes in my story memorable and effective? 
  37. Are the character’s thoughts interesting and necessary, or are they merely repeats of what the character is saying? 
  38. Do I have an overall story arc that is clear and memorable? 
  39. Did I create a satisfying ending, or is it too predictable and rushed because I’m tired of the story? 
  40. Have I read the work out loud to catch the errors that might be more obvious when heard rather than seen? 

I hope this mini version of my checklist is helpful in all your novel-polishing endeavors.

Anita Higman is a CBA best-selling and award-winning author. Among her many accolades, Higman has won the Inspirational Reader’s Choice award twice. She has written or co-authored more than 30 books, including fiction and non-fiction for adults and children, as well as plays. Higman has also been recognized for her contributions to literacy and has raised thousands of dollars with her book I Can Be Anything while serving on the board of directors of Literacy Advance of Houston.

Even though she’s written in many genres, Higman does have her favorite. “I love inspirational romance. There’s just nothing else like it for writing and reading. It naturally makes you want to curl up on an overstuffed couch and read the day away.” Her latest release is A Marriage in Middlebury

She loves good movies, exotic teas and brunch with her friends. Higman and her husband live in Houston, TX.

To keep up with Anita Higman, visit anitahigman.com, become a fan on Facebook (Author Anita Higman) or follow her on Twitter (@anitahigman).


  1. Oh I loved this! Since I'm polishing a novella for a contest, this list is exceptionally helpful. Thanks a million for posting it. :)

  2. Glad you found this post helpful, Cynthia. Good luck in the contest!


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