1. Do I Need This? Not just the rallying cry of laziness, this is a key question for editing. Do you need that scene? How about that character? Could you combine three lackluster cardboard dudes into one far more complex and interesting dude? In the words of Thoreau: simplify, you sons of bitches.*
2. Who’s That Guy? If you can’t summarize someone’s character and plot relevance in one sentence, then you don’t know them as well as you thought. Consider their role in the light of question one, and reevaluate.
3. Where The Hell Are We? If your setting unintentionally** reads like a grey void populated with talking heads, backfill and define. It’s a city? Great. What city? What’s the city’s feel? Anyone who’s travelled can tell you that different cities have different characters. What are its defining characteristics? Where’s the best place to get Korean BBQ at 4 am on a Tuesday? What neighborhoods have a different dominant language? What alleys do you avoid walking down? If your characters live there, they know it, so you should, too.
4. What Happened To That Guy’s Head? When did he die? Where did that character go? Where did that one come from? Why did she kill him? Question motivations and actions and make sure they allstack. If not, your plot will be incoherent and your characters amorphous blobs, and you will leave your reader with a stack of unanswered questions.
5. Why Are We Here? I mean here, at this desk, writing this story. Have an existential crisis on your own time.
What story are you here to tell? Work at this until you can spill it out in one sentence. Stick that on a post-it note. Use it as a guidepost to direct your steps. Because, whatever the reason, you chose to use your precious free time and spare brain-cells to set this story down on paper. Why? If you can’t answer this to your own satisfaction…maybe you should be writing a different story.
*Quotation has been transcribed into Modern Blog for clarity.
**Intentionally is another matter.