Editing an Early Draft of a Memoir, Biography or Family History
Here’s some questions to guide your review of an early draft of a scene, or any nonfiction writing. These questions will focus your attention on story flow and structure, rather than the picky details of grammar and sentence structure. Leave those for the penultimate draft and, for now, apply these questions to a piece you’re reading for someone else, or to your own writing:
• Are character traits revealed through their actions, thoughts and/or dialogue (rather than author “telling”)?
• Was there too much (or not enough) back story/explanation?
• What’s at stake for the character(s)?
• Is there tension? If so, how did the author create that?
• Is there narrative arc (action rises to a crescendo and concludes in a believable/inevitable way)?
• Has something changed—perhaps irrevocably? (“If nothing changes you do not have a scene.”)
• Did something important take place; perhaps with continuing ramifications? What might that be?
• Is this an opening scene? If so, were characters, time and place established smoothly?
• Can you see the people and the place?
• If there’s dialogue, is it believable? Is it interspersed with action and gesture?
• Is the author showing, or is s/he telling? What’s the impact on you as a reader?
• Did the writer evoke senses effectively?
• Are there specific details? Did the author establish a vivid picture and fire your imagination?
• Did the scene leave you wanting more?
Writing That Makes Readers Think & Feel.
• Could the author use less words (or did you need/want more info)?
• Are there places where you’re unclear about what happened (maybe had to read it twice to get it)?
• Are there passages that are particularly vivid and alive? How did the author accomplish that?
• Are there adverbs (modified verbs, often ending in ly) that could be cut or converted to verbs?
• Does the author make good use of nouns and verbs?
• Are there repeated words, phrases or info/details?
• What delighted you? (Be specific).