After finishing your novel’s first draft, you might ask yourself big-picture questions, among them, “What’s the story’s central question?” and “How does my protagonist transform in the course of the story?”  

But a finished novel is an organic whole, made up of elements big and small. The questions asked above are crucially important, but the devil is in the details. You need to go further, examining every scene, ensuring these individual building blocks support—and do not detract from—the narrative.  

In every scene, you should ask:

  1. What is my intention in this scene? 
  1. And how soon into this scene is its relevance apparent? 
  1. How does this scene advance the plot?

A scene without purpose may confuse a reader. They might ask, What is this book about?—and a pointless scene also risks boring your reader. Everything included on your page should forward the plot in some way. You never ever want your reader to skim. While examining your book scene by scene, you will see how plot and character work together.

In this micro-examination, you might also ask yourself in every scene:

  1. What does my character want right here?

How can they get it? What will your protagonist sacrifice to achieve their goals? The higher the stakes, the greater the tension. Friction builds suspense—it keeps your reader riveted.

Maybe not enough happens in this scene. Putting obstacles in your character’s way adds to the tension. Ask yourself if more problems or difficulties should be added to the plot. Make your character work hard to achieve their goals.

What do they want? Asking (and answering) that question throughout the story will focus your work—and more than likely lead to new scenes to be written. 

Map out your book.

Make a list of which characters appear in each scene and analyze that list. 

  1. Why are these characters in this scene?

Use secondary characters to add information, create emotion, or bolster your protagonist’s motivation. Is neighbor Barbara necessary in the scene in which the protagonist confronts her mother? Maybe not.  Would Barbara’s presence enliven the narrative in other scenes in which she is now not featured?

Feature characters in a scene only when they—in some way—contribute to the point of that scene

  1. Avoid having too many characters in each scene.

Too many characters can make for a muddled mess. When a reader is forced to keep track on the page of numerous characters doing this and that, the book can all of a sudden read like stage directions for a play… He goes here, she goes there… So, even if your protagonist is standing in a crowd, your reader should be focused only on a select few characters.

When a new character appears, consider whether you are including too many details about them …or not enough? 

7. Be strategic with characterization.

Do we need to know right here about Kathi’s high school years? Maybe the reader never needs to know this. Is that relevant to this plot? Remember: as the author you may know more about each character and their motivation than the reader needs to know.

Some authors actually chart their characters’ horoscopes, or they see where their characters fit among the nine personality types of the Enneagram system. 

Re-examine your every scene from every character’s perspective.

Whatever method you use to get there, you as author should understand the various characters’ motivations. And again, all the character analysis you do may not need to be stated in the text; instead, it informs your characters’ actions.

While doing your scene-by-scene review, it’s also important to scrutinize the setting.

This is not always given enough consideration. But many career authors view their story’s setting as another character—adding color and tension and detail and nuance to the narrative. The perfectly chosen setting can significantly contribute to a scene’s emotional tenor or meaning. (A picnic on a cliff might be more fraught than one in a cornfield.)

Look at each scene and see:

  1. What, if any, emotion is evoked by your scene’s chosen setting? 
  1. Would a different setting better convey the story’s mood or themes? 
  1. In what ways might an altered setting add or detract from the point of your scene?

Maybe a scene’s location holds particular meaning for your protagonist or one of the other characters. Consider whether each scene—set elsewhere—might evoke more meaning, underscore the theme, or just pack more of a punch.

Another thing to consider:

  1. What senses are featured in this scene?

What do your characters hear, smell, taste? Books are more than just a visual medium. Your words engage the whole brain and all its senses. It matters whether your characters inhale the scent of lilacs or motor oil. Including such details immerses your readers in the setting and action. Of course whatever sensory detail you include should also be in some way relevant to the characterization or plot. 

What do look for when revising your WIP? Share editing strategies with your fellow writers on Facebook.