An informal checklist companion for your slog through revisions

When reviewing a finished draft, I've always put a big emphasis on reading it as quickly as possible, in nice large chunks rather than bits and pieces. When you're writing a thing, you're focused on the minutia of your snail-paced slog through every scene, and so I want to see how the completed story flows as a whole. Do I repeat phrases or emotional beats too often? Does the plot make sense? Does the narrative arc feel satisfying? Is it a STORY or just a series of things happening?

But recently, as I'm nudging the last few bits and pieces of the script for Chronin Volume 2 into place, I've been thinking a lot about the small stuff, too -- the details which are easy to forget about when you're worried if your protagonist's Big Plan makes any sense or if readers will like the romances you've ended up with.

I'm thumbnailing the book right now, in which I draw scratchy stick-figury blueprints of how the final pages might look. It's slow going, so I'm once again experiencing the story in much smaller slices. And I'm using this as an opportunity to think about people instead of plot; to consider character moments instead of narrative momentum.

Here are some questions I might ask myself as I go through a scene:

- What are the characters thinking about RIGHT NOW? How do they feel? Are they worried? Excited? Angry? Why? Is there something they want to be doing, but can't? Is there something they know they have to do soon, but so far they're putting it off?

- (For when a character enters a scene who's been off the page for a while) When did these people last see each other? How did they leave things? How have their situations changed in the time since? Is there an imbalance of information -- has one of them learned something vital that the other doesn't yet understand? Have they missed each other? Were they worried?

- What do each of these people THINK is going on inside the head of the other? Are they correct? If they're wrong, why is that? Do either of them realize that there's been a misunderstanding? Do either of them CARE? If they disagree, is one of them going to try and convince the other to change their mind? Why or why not?

- When was the last time these people ate or drank? When was the last time they slept? What have they been doing, physically, for the past few hours or days? Have they walked a long distance, or lifted something heavy, or been in a fight, or gotten soaking wet, or slept on the ground? Are their clothes comfortable? Are they dressed for the weather? Are they used to this kind of weather? Are they used to this level of physical activity? Are they hungry? If so, how does being hungry make them feel?

- If you asked everyone in this room to describe each other person in one sentence, what would they say? Whose answers would be similar, and why? Whose answers would be different? Would those answers change over the course of the story? Why? How?

- Based on the information they currently have access to, what do these people THINK is happening right now? What are they expecting to happen today, or tomorrow, or next week? How is that impacting their plans, or their conversations with each other? How useful are their plans going to be, given what you the writer KNOW is about to happen?

- Who does each person in this room currently consider to be their closest friends? How has that changed since the beginning of the story? How is that going to change before it ends?

- And seriously, your own feelings about it aside, for serious who wants to kiss who? WHY do they want to? Why is each person attracted to each other person whom you, the author, have romantic designs for? Are those reasons emerging organically from the story? Do you feel like you have to push them together, or is there a sort of narrative gravity between them?

I could go on about this basically infinitely! People are complicated, and so of course, characters are also complicated. I won't pretend that I run deliberately through a list like this for every single scene, but these questions are always in the back of my mind. And when I feel like something isn't quite working, or feels too easy, or too hard, I use these questions to help tease out where the problem is.

At this particular moment, though, the problem is super clear: I'm writing this LJ post instead of working on my thumbnails.

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