FIRST: THE OPENING. The first sentence, the first paragraph, the first chapter all need to grab the reader and entice them to want more. Look at the first sentence. Does it just state a fact or does it help with action to lead the reader towards the plot? First paragraph sets the tone. Ask yourself, does it introduce the character, set the scene and continue the action from the first sentence? Look at the first chapter (novel) or first two paragraphs (picture book). Is there too much detail? Keep thinking action and character development, with pertinent details. Where in the story does the catalyst show up? The catalyst signals the beginning of the plot. Cut copy if necessary to get the catalyst into the first two paragraphs. Or take some of the cut information and use it later in the story.
SECOND: DIALOGUE. It is easy to use SAID, your eyes easily gloss over it when you see it. ASKED, ANSWERED, REPLIED, are almost as easy too. The two best words to use are SAID and ASKED. Use words like WHISPERED, or SHOUTED, for emphasis only. If your dialogue takes on a life of more than a couple lines it should begin to take the place of narrative text. It might illustrate the character’s personalities, what they are doing while they are conversing, and the way they are talking (the emotional tone). But keep your characters moving. Control the dialogue. A good estimate is 40 words for a picture book and 100 to 125 words for a 225 page middle grade or young adult. This is of course a general guideline. Look over dialogues in your story and ask yourself are they compelling?
THIRD: VERBS. Looking back over all your verbs. Verbs are powerful words they can convey action, tell state of mind, or physical aspects of characters. SHE WENT DOWN THE SIDEWALK, only “tells”. SHE SKIPPED DOWN THE SIDEWALK, or SHE SHUFFLED DOWN THE SIDEWALK, is using more precise verbs that can help “show” the story to the reader.
FOURTH: DESCRIPTIONS. For a picture book story keep your descriptions minimal. The illustrator will fill those in. For the middle grade or young adult novel, underline those sentences or paragraphs that are strictly descriptive. Then as an overview you can see how much descriptive writing you have done. Too much can bog down the plot. Let the reader fill in. Look for general terms and try to select a few details to bring your scene to life. For example your character notices a cat. She’s says its cute. Instead, let the reader in on the cats appearance instead of just cute.
FIFTH: WHAT’S LEFT. Does every chapter help the reader understand the plot? Check your pacing of the story. If you have written a picture book, is it a page turner? Check your characters. Too many? Picture books keep the number of characters to a minimum. This whole process can be a lot of work, but well worth the effort. I usually have over 6 drafts for each story I have written. Good Luck and enjoy the writing process.