Browsing the archives for the characters tag.
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Tools for Naming Characters


Tom Riddle

In my current novel, my character names have been a mess. I’ve used up hours naming and renaming major characters, with the protagonist so far the most name-changed individual with two rounds of selection for her first name and three for her last name. Not only do I want each name to be right, I also want them to fit together, and to minimize the possibility of them being confused with each other. For instance, I generally try to avoid giving any two major characters of the same gender the first initial.

Naming characters well
Character names are important to me for a number of reasons. An awkward name makes it harder for me to read a story. A name with the wrong “feel” or associations is offputting. A name that I don’t like makes it hard for me to like the character. The wrong name in a story, especially in my own story, yanks me out of the experience and into a critical, peevish attitude that gets in the way of experiencing the story.

Some writers have nailed this. Shakespeare, for my money, was as poetic with his names as with everything else he wrote. Dickens was a master of names, too. J. K. Rowling has some of the cleverest names I’ve ever heard, given that she’s writing for a young audience. That she would have a wizard character with the intriguing but cheerful name “Tom Marvolo Riddle,” and that this would be an anagram for “I am Lord Voldemort,” with “Voldemort” not only having an ominous and terrible sound a la Sauron or Tash or (more subtly) Moriarty, but also having the meaning (if we apply German and French) of “full of death” … that’s just insane. I can’t imagine how she managed that.

Name resources
Let’s not set the bar too high, though. In terms of finding good, appropriate names for characters, first of all, here are a few of my favorite resources:

Scrivener (see “How Tools and Environment Make Work into Play, Part I: The Example of Scrivener” and “Would Scrivener Make You a Happier Writer?“) has a name generation feature which is very convenient, but I have often found these names to be too random and uncommon for my taste. However, it will let you choose nationalities and other factors, so for some Scrivener users, it might be just the thing.

Choosing a name: an example
Here’s a grid I used to choose a new surname for the protagonist of my current novel. I had five criteria:

  • How the name sounded (to me) with the protagonist’s first name
  • How it sounded with her family members’ first names
  • How the name “felt” to me in terms of suiting this character (and to a much lesser extent, her family)
  • Associations I thought readers might commonly have with the name, and
  • Thematic resonance/appropriateness.

I got my list of candidates by browsing through that “1,000 most common surnames” link and choosing anything that looked like it might suit.

Check marks mean “win,” x’s mean “fail,” and tildes (~) mean “meh, sorta.”

In the end, I went with “Finch,” not only because it was the one choice to score all five check marks, but also because of the nuances of the the specific associations with advocacy, right action, long odds, great literature, and nature. What this gives me is a character name I feel good about and that works with me rather than against me. It doesn’t matter that I stole it: as Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Whether you steal your name or come by it honestly, here’s wishing you characters that sound like the people you want them to be.

Drawing by Irrisor-Immortalis.


Interview with Del Law: World Building and Character Building in Beasts of the Walking City


Recently I had the opportunity to read Del Law’s debut novel, Beasts of the Walking City, and between the world-building, the characters, and the hard-driving plot, I was engrossed from beginning to end. Since I know Law, I asked him if I could interview him for this site, to get a better idea of how he pulled off this surprising and entertaining story. He agreed, and here is that interview.

Del Law can be found online through his blog, House on Bear Mountain.

Del, what immediately jumps out at me about Beasts of the Walking City is the huge amount of world-building–actually, worlds-building might be more accurate, since the story takes place in a world that overlaps with a number of others. You’ve created geography, very distinctive types of magic and combat, multiple political groups, various kinds of sentient beings, cities, and history behind all of it. Where did the world of your story come from, and how did it get so detailed and layered?

I’m dying to say I found it all behind a back door in an alley somewhere in Hoboken, but no: I’ve been developing Blackwell’s world for a long, long time, almost as long as I can remember.  I played role playing games in elementary and early high school and caught the world-building bug then–as a teen-ager I covered walls of my room with maps and sketches of worlds and characters.  I bet if I were able to find those maps and dig some of them out, that aspects of Kiryth would be in them, though it’s grown and changed and morphed many, many times since those years.  Versions of some character showed up in my undergraduate writing thesis, but even then they were very early versions, written about by a writer who (I think) was still working to find a voice.

I daydream when I can.  I try and look at things from strange angles.  When I travel I try to find small details that imply a whole lot more behind them.  I watch my kids and how they see their world.  I try and write it all down and layer it in somehow.

So much modern fantasy is based on our own history here on Earth, and for good reason–it’s a shared reality we all know parts of, it’s easy for a reader to connect to, and by reading or writing books set in different aspects of our world, we all learn more about the world while enjoying a good story.  Plus, it’s easier as a writer to not have to make everything up, and if someone’s writing on a deadline you need to get your book done.

But with Blackwell’s world I didn’t want to do that.  I wasn’t on a deadline, and I wanted to build something from the ground up, something unique, with characters that feel vivid and real and embedded in social and political contexts as we ourselves are.  I wanted it to feel real and dirty and as messed up as our own world often is, not simple and contained.  I suppose I cheated a bit by then connecting it all with Earth, but by doing that I got to layer some of our history and details up against the ones I made up, and I think that gives the histories and the characters even more a sense of ‘real-ness’.

At what point did your main character, Blackwell, emerge, and how did you create or develop him?

Blackwell emerged over time, really, and for such a big guy he was pretty quiet about it for a while.  I know some writers say they have characters that stick in their heads and sort of lead the story along–not me.  I knew I wanted to write from a non-human perspective, since that doesn’t happen very often, and plus it’s a nice way to bring in more detail about the world.  But all the standard fantasy races were out for me–overdone, not much room left for originality.

So along came the Hulgliev.  Aspects of them came out as I was working through the drafts: once a pretty big deal, now pretty rare.  Hated by many–but why?  There’s a mystery.  They can pigment themselves like a squid does–that’s pretty cool.

But if the book was going to work, Blackwell really had to stand out with a strong voice, and he had to be someone that you could relate to, and not all-powerful or all-knowing.  I rewrote big sections of the book and things started appearing.  His really bad childhood.  His complex family structure.  His fondness for bourbon and noodles (things I can relate to).  His impulsiveness and poor self image and general naiveté.  His desire for something better for himself and his friends.  All of these things emerged as being pretty central to how the plot plays out in the book, so there was a lot of juggling to manage it all.  I rewrote a lot to try and get it right.

In the end, for me, he was fun to spend time with, as was Kjat, the woman who’s in love with him (though he’s pretty blind to it).  I hope they’re both intriguing for readers, too.

So Blackwell emerged in rewrites, a little at a time. I’ve had that happen myself, but it’s not an approach we hear talked about much, even though it seems here to have been pretty successful. Did other important elements of the book present themselves in the course of rewrites as well?

Del Law

Yes, completely.  Al Capone came late, and he’s pretty critical now, but early drafts didn’t have him and I think the story was more limited as a result.  Fehris, one of the important secondary characters, became not-quite-human as drafts progressed, to make him more compelling.  Some of Kjat’s backstory, and how that’s tied to Blackwell’s life, came later.  A lot of the smaller details that give the world a broader context tended to come later, too:  the Singing Dragon of Barakuu, or the Bakarh Contest of Symmetry, say.  This book doesn’t go into them in any detail, really, but the fact that the reader hears of them, knows that there’s something with this kind of mysterious name to it is out there, makes the world feel bigger.  (Unless you overdo it, and then there are just too many names and details flying around.)

Some of this comes from me knowing my own strengths and weaknesses, and how to work around them–I’m less great at plot, so I try and work that out first.  I’m better at description, so knowing that, I can give myself the leeway to push this off a little while I get the plot pinned down.  But then there are cool ways that descriptions interact with and affect the plot–you have to be perceptive enough to roll with that, even when it means a lot more work to get it all right.

The Amazon reviews so far have been overwhelmingly positive, but it’s notoriously hard for new novelist to get much attention for a new book. What future do you see for the Walking City series? What are the chances of a seeing a sequel in the next year or three?

I think there’s a great chance of another book.  I’m working on it now, though it’s hard to say how long it’ll take.  I don’t want to rush it out and have something I’m not happy with.  But there’s a lot in Blackwell’s world that I didn’t touch on in the first book.

Funny, your question came in the middle of a big promotion weekend I’m running on for Beasts.  The book was available for free, and was on the top 10 lists for both free Fantasy and free SciFi, and closing in on the top 100 overall free books for Kindle.  Hundreds of people were downloading it every hour.  For me, that’s totally cool, great publicity, and I think Amazon’s created a great opportunity for early authors to get their work out there. [Note from Luc: As of this writing, Beasts of the Walking City remains in the top 10,000 Kindle books, outdoing a great many novels released by traditional publishers.]

Will it make a ton of money?  Probably not this month.  But that’s ok for me right now.  I’d rather get Beasts out into the hands of readers, give them a chance to get interested in the series, and that’ll give me even more reason to write more of them.  Unlike writers who are working for a big publishing company, I can afford to be patient–my book isn’t competing for bookstore shelf space, doesn’t have just a few months in which it has to sink or swim.  Beasts can gain an audience slowly, over time, and that’s just fine.  I’ll be working on the next book, and the one after that.

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How Do You Research Characters and Settings So That They Feel Real?


Old Vermont barns like this one were part of my experience I wanted to use in the setting for my novel of curse-keeping in rural Vermont, Family Skulls (see left sidebar)

I try to limit the number of posts I make on the craft of fiction writing, because while I’ve been seeing some great success in my writing, it’s not as though I’ve written the Great American Novel and hit the bestseller lists, so advice on how to write a story seems like something I should be careful not to give out too much of. However, a reader recently wrote to me saying she was concerned that she might not be able to learn enough about her characters and settings to write a novel that feels real, and asking what kind of research I do when writing fiction to make sure that these elements work. Feeling that I had some useful information on the subject, I replied. Here’s what I wrote:

Based on my own experience and on many discussions with other writers, there seem to be a lot of different approaches to researching character and setting. Some of us just dive right in and either stop to do research as necessary or make notes about what we need to research and just keep writing around the blanks. Personally I’m not a fan of putting in a blank and expecting to fill in with research later, because I think good research can weave itself deeply into the story, but I can’t deny that it works for some good writers.

Using research to make a story work well and feel real isn’t especially difficult, but it does take time and effort.

Approaches for characters
I’d suggest taking different approaches for characters and setting. For characters, unless you’re the kind of person who (like me) likes to try to draw characters out while writing the story, I’d suggest putting down some key information about each major character first. Basic life facts and physical information are important, of course–What are their hair colors? How strong or weak, heavy or light are they? What kinds of medical problems have they had to go through? How tall or short are they? What were their families like as children, and who was in those families? What are their family or living situations like now? How do they get along with family members in the present? How far have they gotten in school? How did they do? What job, if any, do they have?

Even more importantly, though, you can delve into what drives them. I don’t think it’s necessarily important to know what a character’s favorite color is or what that character ate for breakfast unless that’s very meaningful to who they are or to the story–though some writers disagree and feel that this kind of extreme detail is worth gathering. For my money, though, what’s important is what the character desires, what they’re afraid of, what their doubts are, what kinds of situations get under their skin, and that kind of thing.

Strengths and schemas
I often use strengths and schemas, at least informally, to flesh out characters. The 36 strengths outlined by Marcus Buckingham, et al. (see ) are one good way to find out what characters are good at. The 18 early maladaptive schemas from schema therapy (see ) can be used to find at least one major personality flaw for each character. Real people have multiple strengths and usually multiple schemas, though some may be milder than others. Characters don’t necessarily have to be fleshed out with a cocktail of five strengths and three schemas, for instance, unless it’s really necessary to get that deep to figure out what they’ll do.

Have reasons for your choices
One piece of this process that seems essential to me (and that I forgot to mention to my correspondent on the first pass) is that I don’t see any point in coming up with arbitrary choices. I’d advise choosing character details because they grab you, because they make the character more interesting and complex, because they’ll drive the story, or because they make an interesting cocktail with other characteristics. If your character creation process contains steps like “I guess she’ll have been brought up by a single mom, because I know there are a lot of single moms,” then I suspect you won’t get much juice out of that fact of her upbringing. If you say, though, “I guess she’ll have been brought up by a single mom, and the mom was an alcoholic, so my character had to be the parent to her own mom as she was growing up,” or “I guess she’ll have been brought up by a single mom, being told her father was dead, and then in the story her father will show up at some crucial point when she can’t afford to spare any attention to connect with him.” … well, then maybe you’ve got something.

Personally, I tend to try to let characters emerge organically as I write them, and only stop and question myself about them when they’re not already coming alive. However, this approach takes some practice to work well, doesn’t suit everyone, and may not be ideal anyway. My suggestion in regard to how to come up with characters, as with everything else, is to try everything … then spend a few years getting better at the techniques you decided to use and try everything again. Write, grow, repeat.

Approaches for settings
For settings, I’d suggest starting with a place you have easy access to if possible and paying close attention to the sights, sounds, smells, and physical experience of being in that place. If that’s not practical, it’s worth digging up photos, videos, articles, or other materials that give you a lot of physical specifics. Writing comes alive when it’s full of fresh, unusual, accurate sensory details–and ideally not just sight and sound, but all the senses. If you go too far with this, it begins to get overwhelming, but one or two good sensory impressions per page really pack a punch.

The facts about a location are easier: you can use Google Maps or Google Earth to find out how things are laid out, look up construction of houses or how an office is furnished, etc. I tend to do a lot of research looking for images and videos, because they give me much more of a feeling of being in a place than a simple description.

A couple of writing books you might really like, in case you haven’t already read them, are Orson Scott Card’s Characters and Viewpoint and Stephen King’s On Writing. Between the two of them, they can give you a lot of tools, explanations, and confidence.

Photo by Beth M527

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What Makes Characters Riveting?


I’ve been thinking about the question of what makes a good fictional character, and the result is this list of ways characters can draw readers’ interests, which I hope you’ll find useful.

There seem to be some basic requirements for characters that aren’t as much about drawing readers to them as about the character being workable at all, things like having flaws, actively pursuing goals, being vulnerable in some way, and being believable (at least in the context of the story). My list below is not so much about these things, which we might consider the character basics, but about the more difficult and touchy job of creating a character that pops off the page or that readers love.

With that said, my fictional success isn’t yet to the point where I can claim that all of my characters do this, so certainly you can take this list with a grain of salt.

So what I came up with when I dug into this question was five categories of things that get and keep readers interested in a character. They aren’t entirely exclusive of one another, but they seem to be helpful categories. They are:

1. sympathy (we like the character)
2. attention (we want to see what the character will do next)
3. entertainment (we enjoy seeing the character in action)
4. admiration (we aspire to be like the character), and
5. identification (we feel like the character reflects ourselves)

It’s likely that there are some other methods or even an entire category or two I’ve missed, but this list should be useful at least as a starting point.

By the way, I give a character for each of the below as an example of that item, but I’m not suggesting that the item in question is the only or even necessarily the primary thing that’s interesting about that particular character, just that the character is an example of that item in action.

* Suffering through something undeserved (Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
* Makes a sacrifice for someone else’s good (Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities)
* Consistently kind to others even when mistreated (Little Orphan Annie in the Little Orphan Annie comic, etc.)
* Extremely loyal (Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings)
* Highly principled (Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird)
* Not consistently nice, but sometimes willing to put real effort into being kind or friendly (Greg House in the TV series House)

* Mysterious (Lestat in Interview with the Vampire)
* Trying really hard to accomplish something difficult (Hazel in Watership Down)
* Extremely resourceful, whether well-intentioned or not (Tom Sawyer in Tom Sawyer)
* Unique, fascinating, or exotic (Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear in The Golden Compass)
* Very powerful, whether in politics, money, physical prowess, etc. (Darth Vader in Star Wars)

* Eccentric, unpredictable, fun to watch (Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribean)
* Willing to say things most people would only think (Sherlock Holmes in the modern movie and TV adaptations–I can’t comment on the originals, not having read them for a long time)
* Witty or intentionally entertaining (Bartimaeus in The Amulet of Samarkand)
* Strongly identifiable and partly–but not entirely–predictable (Homer Simpson in the TV series The Simpsons)

* Great at something (Zorro in various movies)
* Wise or knowledgeable (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings)
* Unflappable; impossible to keep down (Lyra in The Golden Compass)

* Struggling with issues we can identify with, whether successful or not (Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye)
* Feels like a stand-in for the reader (Bella Swan in Twilight)

Of course, many of the best characters hit multiple points above.

As an exercise, it can be useful to think of a character you love from a book, movie, or television show, consider whether one or more of the above applies strongly to that character, and decide for yourself whether or not that has much to do with why you like the character. Recently I’ve been watching the excellent BBC series Masterpiece: Downton Abbey, and I was interested to realize that as I made this list, various characters from that show popped into my head without me even trying.

A more potent exercise: take a piece of your writing–or even someone else’s writing–in which there’s a character who doesn’t really stand out, and go through this list to find one or two of the above items that you can use to punch the character up. What are your results?

I’d appreciate your comments, additions, protests, and so on.


Slowly Revealing Characters With the Snowflake Method

A little while back I reported that I was attempting to use the Snowflake Method (or parts of it, anyway) as I develop my new novel. My progress has been slow, to say the least: unfortunately, the novel can’t take priority over a variety of other things I’m doing in my life at this point, so I’ve had to be satisfied to this point with gradually building the story as time allows. I’ve been researching Russian and Soviet history (important in understanding some of the characters and events in my story) and planning out my novel step by small step in the Snowflake fashion.
So far, I have to admit, Snowflake has been unexpectedly valuable to me. I had expected it to give me some structure and keep me on track, but it has done much beyond that.

Snowflake forces me to delve deeper before moving ahead. For instance, in the first step, it required me to know and state in a sentence what my novel was about. Then I had to settle on the major turns in the story and come up with an ending, neither of which I was particularly inclined to do at that point if I had been left to my own devices, but both of which have given me a much deeper understanding of where the story was going. In the current step, which requires a period of focus on each major character in turn, it’s forcing me to understand all of my characters well enough to see where they are headed in the course of the novel. What are they each after? How do they change? What are their biggest obstacles? (If you want to read the specific questions instead of my generalizations, you can read about the Snowflake Method on Randy Ingermanson’s Web site.)

I haven’t generally been a fan of cataloging everything there is to know about a character. Yes, it’s nice to know what the character had for breakfast that morning, but that doesn’t really give me much to go on when I’m trying to envision what a character will do or say next. The questions I’m forced to answer for my Snowflake outlining are much more telling and basic: I find out that Nancy, a mother and wife in my story, is trying to get her husband to move their family out of a war zone and getting nowhere with it, which helps me know Nancy much better than if I just knew that she had dry rye toast for breakfast and wanted to marry the postman when she was three. Since goals very often have to do with other people, like in this case, it also tells me some useful things about Nancy’s husband and son and their relationships. Building a web of strong relationships that have built-in conflicts like this yields a story that has a chance of breaking out and writing itself. That’s one reason I’ve gotten so much enjoyment out of Joss Whedon’s star-crossed TV series Firefly: the central characters were a tightly-knit group, but they also had built-in conflicts with one another.

To come at it from another angle: I sometimes get the chance to talk with my father, an actor, about what acting and writing fiction might have in common. I gather from these conversations that one of the things he and many other actors do is to find a specific goal in every scene, a process that can furnish drive, focus, and direction. If you’ve ever seen grade school actors just stand there and fidget, unsure what to do until their next line comes along, you’ll see why I value this kind of point of view, and why a goal-focused view of characters, as Dr. Ingermanson’s approach requires me to take, is promising me something beyond just a better familiarity with my cast.


Photo by viking_79

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Slowflake: Structure vs Diving In


In recent posts like “A Novel in One Sentence” I’ve mentioned that I’m trying out the Snowflake method for writing my current novel. This is a much more deliberate and structured way to go about it than I’ve ever used before (although I have outlined large writing projects in the past), and in a way is an experiment in doing something in a structured way when I could have chosen just to dive in instead.

Is all this structure helping? So far, absolutely yes. In step 1 I got a clear picture of what my novel is really about, which is extremely useful. Step 2 forced me to figure out the major turns in the story and my ending. The ending especially was difficult to see, but now that I’ve gotten an idea of what it will be I find I have more confidence in the book, and I have an important bit of planning done in a way that will allow it to do a lot of good.

I’m currently on Step 3, and it’s taking me forever. Why? Because I have to have all of my characters fleshed out in some major respects here in Step 3. I’m used to my characters either appearing full-fledged in my mind or to getting to know them through writing them. They often surprise me and step in to become much more interesting than anything I could have planned out. (I’m not a fan of the “come up with all kinds of detailed information about your character” approach because I feel like this focuses things on trivia and not on the character’s personality and driving needs, but your mileage may vary.)

I have to admit, though, stopping and figuring out some basic questions about each character (as distinct from trivial details) forces me to have a whole set of characters with goals, needs, and perspectives from the beginning. Also, I have little details that would be annoying and distracting to come up with as I write taken care of: for instance, I’m spending the time up front figuring out names for each character, which are something that have to feel exactly right for me to write them well.

Despite all of these benefits, I still am itching to just start writing the book. It’s writing fiction, after all, not planning it, that is the delight and the meat of the task for me. I’m frankly not sure I’ll last through the rest of the snowflake steps, especially considering that step 7, for instance, is about cataloging all of those character details I don’t much care for. At what point does a useful structure become too confining and get in the way of going organically forward?

From the point of view of the quality of the book, I’m not sure how long I should ideally stick with the structure, though I am sure that at a certain point I want to be able to plunge into the story and live there: I don’t want to construct every shoe and blade of grass and drop of blood first and then fit everything together like a jigsaw. At some point I’ll want to have some forward motion.

Yet when that point comes, I suspect I’ll be very glad that I stuck to structuring as long as I did. I guess we’ll see.

Photo by Juliancolton2

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The Virtuoso Writer’s Cheat Sheet


A year or two ago on Codex, I put out some ideas for a kind of writing checklist, things to keep in mind that tend to be good questions to ask about a successful story. Some good additions and improvements were made, resulting in a very pithy list of questions that I post on my wall, “The Virtuoso Writer’s Cheat Sheet.” The idea is that anyone who can keep all of these things in their head at once and act effectively on them is pretty much a fiction virtuoso. For the rest of us, there are walls and scotch tape.

You may not agree with the implications of every one of these questions, and I hope you won’t think that every question is supposed to apply to every story. For instance, Sauron doesn’t have sympathetic traits, but he makes a pretty decent villain for a fairly popular story.

Regardless, asking myself these questions about my stories in progress or about stories that I’m about to edit is awfully useful to me, and maybe it will be to you, too. If you have a story that’s been rejected a number of times but that you particularly love, you might want to run it through this to see if it turns up any possible flaws or limitations you might not have noticed.

Much of this material is stolen (thank you Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Codex members, Tim Powers, etc.) Comments are welcome.

* Always some kind of conflict or tension?
* Stage directions subtle, but enough to prevent reader confusion?
* Distinctive character voices (diction, topics, vocabulary, personality, etc.)?
* Would a real person talk like this?
* Length of speech logical for the situation?
* Can reader tell who is speaking when?
* Everything said because of what the characters want, nothing strictly for the reader’s benefit?

* Where’s the light coming from?
* Are several senses engaged on each page?
* Is the scene clear from the description alone, without your extra knowledge as the writer?

* Are descriptions specific, sensory, and fresh?

* Conveys character(s); at least a hint of conflict; and setting?
* Originality in first few paragraphs?
* Opening problem, hook, or other draw?

* Not easily confused with the title of another book or story?
* Suggests the kind of story?
* Offers something intriguing or attractive?
* Sets the right tone?
* Easy for one person to pass on to another?

* Satisfying, yet unexpected?
* Resonates with beginning and/or theme of story?

* Has sympathetic traits?
* Actively trying to achieve a goal?
* Realistic motivation?
* Offstage time accounted for?

* Leaving out unnecessary words or phrases?
* Mood and/or foreshadowing conveyed through word choice?
* Tension level conveyed through word size, flow, harsh/soft sounds?
* Active construction wherever possible?
* Use of strong verbs and nouns?
* Minimal use of adverbs and adjectives?
* Avoiding distracting repetitions (rare words only once in a book, non-structure words once in a paragraph or page)?
* Avoiding weak modifiers very, slightly, just, quite?
* Avoiding sensory crutch words like looked, appeared, seemed, heard, sounded?
* Avoiding self-contradictory language (impossibly tall, slightly unique)?

* Struggling with some important flaw?
* Sympathetic, likely to attract the reader?
* Actively trying to achieve a goal?
* If more than one, are they about equally engaging and sympathetic?
* Protagonist the person with the most to lose?
* Acts unusually, and shown in situations that demonstrate it?
Story concept
* Something significant that the reader might care about at stake?
* Both internal and external conflicts present?
* Taking into account reader expecations for genre/subgenre/story model?
* Decent capsule description of story automatically sounds compelling and attractive?
* Something about the story that’s attractive and enticing to readers?
* Character’s goals feel important to the reader?
* Has inherent conflict, or is the conflict just incidental?
* If a standard story type, doing something unique that justifies the story?
* Some elements of this story blow the cool meter?
* Powerful moments that create compelling, unusual images?

* Do mysteries naturally arise in the storyline without artificially withholding information?
* Inciting incident, character response, disaster?
* Driven by character, not author?
* Enough tension at any given moment?

* Taking into account time of day in each scene?
* Describing an actual event rather than summarizing when possible?
* Each scene contributing to the story in at least two ways? (e.g. characterization + tension, immersiveness + stakes, etc.)
* Each scene essential to the story or strengthens/propels it?

* Readers care what happens to them?
* Names easily distinguished from one another?
* Based on an understanding of real people instead of on movies, other books, or stereotypes?
* Any characters who would be more effective if combined into one?
* Each important character has an implied past, friends, family, a job, something they would be doing if the story weren’t happening?

* Chosen POV the most effective for this story?
* If first person, justified by the character having a distinctive voice or special way of seeing things?
* If not omniscient, is POV clear and consistent?
* Are changes in time, place, or POV character clearly tagged as such from the start?
* If multiple POV characters, are the transitions smooth?
* Do POV changes propel the reader on rather than making them start again cold?

* For scientific/tech details, math checked?
* Factual subjects handled accurately from knowledge or research?

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