By Hank Phillippi Ryan 

Pick a page of your manuscript, any page. Even though you’re writing a whole book, each page has to be a perfect part of your perfect whole. Page by page, is  your manuscript is as powerful and polished as it can be? Here’s my handy-dandy page-by-page checklist.


Easy one. Look at the format. Improper formatting will send your manuscript straight to the reject file. Do you have proper margins, double-spaced? No extra spaces between paragraphs. Is the punctuation of your dialogue correct? Look here for more instructions.


Will the readers know where the action is taken place? I don’t mean long paragraphs about the purple-bruised clouds and the glistening kudzu, but make sure the reader is grounded in setting. Have you given three indicators of where your characters are? Or are they talking in a black box?  And bonus: Have you used the setting as part of the action? Not “the table was marble,” but “he placed his dry palms on the cool marble table.” You can do better than that but you know what I mean.

A goal

In every scene, on every page, someone needs to want to something. What do your characters want? Is that clear on the page you’ve chosen? What do they hope for, what are they going for, what is their goal?

An obstacle

Is there an obstacle on this page? A difficulty, an interference? It doesn’t have to be a big thing–no guy with a gun–but even if it’s lost reading glasses or spoiled bread or a flat tire or rain or an argument or a mistake, what happens to get in the way of your character’s goal?

Forward motion

Is something happening on this page? Do you have a page of people just yammering or someone mulling something over, or an elaborate description of turning left on Maple Street then turning right on Elm Street? Check your page for forward motion. Ask yourself, what happens in this scene? What is the scene for? How does this advance the plot? 

The scene

Speaking of which, you are writing a scene, right? Ask yourself: in big picture, how is this page part of my scene? What is the scene for, and how does this page serve it? What specific work does this page do–why do I need it? Make sure your page passes the must-be-here test.

The character

Does this page do anything to strengthen or emphasize or illustrate your character? What do we learn about your characters on this page? Why is this page valuable for reader understanding of the character’s personality?  Can you make this page a more character-driven experience?

The theme

Have you touched on your theme? Every page does not have to flog the theme, but every page should embody the theme. Make sure you have somehow, subtly if need be, woven your over-arching theme onto the page.

The dialogue

Is it natural? Read this page out loud–it will take you two minutes at most. See what the characters say. How they talk. Are they differentiated? Do people say what people would really say? How can you make that better?

Point of view

Who is telling this story? Not you the author, but your point of view character. Have you slipped point of view? You should hear that as soon as you read the page. Make sure you understand point of view, and make sure this page is through the eyes and heart and mind of the point of view character. Only.

The writing

Is this page the best writing it can be? Is every sentence wonderful? many times did you use the word was? Can you change a sentence or two, and eliminate it? Have you used the most active verbs? Scan down the left margin for the beginnings of each paragraph. Do they all begin with she or he or I? How can you change that?

Here’s a secret: if you’re having a bad writing day, and can’t seem to make any progress, just flip that through your manuscript and do the my easy page spotcheck. Trust me.  See what happens. And see if it doesn’t propel you forward.

What do you check for on each page? Let’s talk about it on the Career Author‘s Facebook page.