Questions to ask yourself as you revise - not in any particular order.
1. The beginning: Will it hook the reader? The novel needs to start where the problem makes itself most apparent so that a decision will need to be made, preferably coupled with some action. Do not swamp the reader with too much back story in the early pages, or too many minor characters. This will only confuse and slow down the story. You can add these facts later, as and when needed. Make sure you have answered the five W's: Who, what, where, why, when.
2. Check grammar, punctuation, spelling, tense, bad habits, overuse of lazy words. Now is the time to use your thesaurus but don’t overdo it. Repetition: Not just of words but every idea must be fresh. You only need say something once.
3. Theme: must be in sight throughout. Keep to the point. Too many digressions will confuse your readers and distance them from your characters.
4. Character: Are your characters strong? The reader must care about them and be involved with their troubles, in particular the main viewpoint character. Are they credible? Do they have flaws or a saving grace? What is their motivation for every action? Constantly ask yourself why they are behaving in the way they do. Does your hero develop and overcome, or learn to live with a different reality?
5. Dialogue: Needs to have a purpose and it should be clear who is speaking at all times.
6. Time: Make a time chart to check there are no discrepancies. These can slip in when you move a scene. If you use flashbacks, or it is a story taking place in two time periods. Make sure it is clear to the reader where they are at any given time.
7. Structure: Check the inciting incident, complications, crisis or dark moment, climax and resolution. Is the order of the scenes dramatically effective, or would the story be improved by slotting one in a more appropriate place, or leaving it out altogether?
8. Narrative Drive: Does the novel maintain a strong narrative drive throughout? Is it logical and credible? Does everything tie in and make sense? Is the story engrossing or does it sag in the middle? If so, why? Have you lost the plot and digressed too much, padded it with unnecessary description, or simply run out of imagination? Tighten it up and/or make something relevant happen.
9. Pace: This should vary with high dramatic moments and time to draw breath and consolidate the situation in between.
10. Conflict is the stuff of fiction to produce a page-turning story, involving both internal thoughts, problems and emotions, and external between protagonists.
11. Viewpoint: Check that you’ve stayed in it. Use a limited number or you’ll risk distancing the reader from your hero or heroine.
12. Overwriting: Don’t do it. Avoid adjectives, flowery phrases, purple prose, over-explanation, too much emphasis and overstatement.
13. Suspense: There should always be a sense of warning or promise. Chapters should end at a cliff-hanger. Have you withheld a vital clue long enough, or should you milk it a bit more? Are there enough twists and surprises? Clues? Red herrings? Have you led the reader down one path only to hit him with something totally unexpected?
14. Style: Easy, warm, strong, compulsive, rippling with tension, whatever your novel needs, your writer’s voice must shine through. Make sure it suits your chosen genre. Is it commercial and popular, or literary and serious? Fast paced, witty or gentle? Read plenty of books in your chosen genre as a guide, then don’t be afraid to experiment to find your own.
15. Personal: Do not air your opinions in the story, only those of your characters. If you’ve got a hobby-horse write it in a letter to the Times.
16. Emotional involvement: Show, rather than tell. We need to see and feel the physical and emotional effect of your hero or heroine’s fear, his/her reaction to a shocking event, or the passion in the love scene. Right from the first page the reader must live the story and suffer with the character.
17. Transitions: These should flow easily onto the next scene. Don’t clutter the text with trivia, or boring everyday details.
18. Appeal to all five senses. Make each scene evocative, and with a strong sense of place.
19. Length: Check what is normally required for the publisher you’re aiming for in your particular genre. Make sure it fits the market. It’s fashionable now to have shorter chapters, and shorter paragraphs. Punchier and easily accessible.
20. Ending: Tie up all loose ends for a satisfying ending with all problems resolved. Solve the least important first, leaving the original, most important problem till last.
And finally: Check the accuracy – again and again! Facts MUST be correct. Check and double check.