Fiction Punchlist for Writers


Avoid cliches like the plague? Check.

The following punchlist was originally intended for use in the Vision & Revision Workshop when rewriting novels. There’s nothing quite as embarrassing as opening a copy of your book fresh from the printer and finding that something vital has been left out or neglected. But the list also has applications for scripts and other writing. Notice that there are seven different categories: Marketability: e.g., how saleable the script is.
Structure: e.g., how logical the story progression is.
Character: e.g., how well the characters are constructed.
Story: e.g., how interesting and credible the story is.
Dialogue: e.g., how logically the characters speak.
Text (or Action): e.g., how well crafted the narrative is.
Theme/Setting/Motif: e.g., how well the underlying ideas mesh.

⬜ Are the theme and topics universal enough to draw an audience?
⬜ Is the material suitable for the target audience?
⬜ Will the reader identify with/care about the protagonist?
⬜ Is the plot credible and interesting?
⬜ Is the story true to the genre? Are genre rules violated?
⬜ Do you hook the reader early?

⬜ Did you fully execute your chosen structure?
⬜ Do you avoid pointless tangents?
⬜ Does conflict escalate throughout?
⬜ Do the chapter outs have high tension?
⬜ Do you enter scenes late and leave them early?
⬜ Are there reversals at appropriate points?
⬜ Are there the right number of subplots?
⬜ Is the timeline clear and coherent, with minimal flashbacks?

⬜ Are main characters strong, with nuance and definite arcs?
⬜ Are all characters necessary?
⬜ Are the characters consistent, realistic, and pursuing their wants?
⬜ Does your protagonist have an inner challenge?
⬜ Do the major character milestones align?
⬜ Are characters well matched to create conflict?
⬜ Are characters well described and dramatically introduced?
⬜ Do you have one good POV for each chapter or scene?

⬜ Is there inner and outer energy throughout?
⬜ Have you included all obligatory scenes?
⬜ Is all action consistent with story and character?
⬜ Have you used every opportunity for adding tension/conflict?
⬜ Have you eliminated all plot holes and missing scenes?
⬜ Is the ending unpredictable or with an element of surprise?
⬜ Is the ending satisfying, with resolution of major questions?
⬜ Did you avoid a deus ex or coincidental ending?

⬜ Do your characters have unique and appropriate voices?
⬜ Are the attributions clear?
⬜ Is the dialogue realistic?
⬜ Have you avoided obviously expository dialogue?
⬜ Is the narration in balance with the dialogue?
⬜ Does every line advance story, define character, or set a scene?

⬜ Have you eliminated most adverbs?
⬜ Have you avoided passive constructions?
⬜ Have you avoided cliches?
⬜ Do your sentences vary in structure and length?
⬜ Did you avoid carelessly foreshadowing outcomes?
⬜ Have you chosen the right words?
⬜ Is the writing tight, coherent, consistent, clear, unforced, and fresh?
⬜ Have you eliminated any “stage management” (pointless action)?
⬜ Are your action scenes terse, fast flowing?

Theme, Setting, & Motif:
⬜ Is the theme well shown in the key chapters and in the title?
⬜ Have you used every opportunity to drive motif home?
⬜ Are there instances of theme throughout the m/s?
⬜ Is the theme not stated too obviously in narration?
⬜ Have you involved all the senses in most scenes?
⬜ Have you fully explored the emotional possibilities?
⬜ Does the setting match the theme and genre?
⬜ Are the settings varied and interesting?
⬜ Are the settings well described from character POVs?

What items do you think should be added to this punchlist? Is there another category needed?


US Navy picture via Wikimedia Commons

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