Category Archives: Story Finish

Have You Checked Your Story?

Scales So, you’ve finished your screenplay or novel. Is it as good as you can make it? Other than gut-feel, how can you tell?

Here’s a shortened checklist, via Margret Geraghty’s The Novelist’s Guide, to help you decide:

Do you start in the right place? Not too soon or too late?
Is your first chapter or scene riveting and compelling?
Does each scene have structure and purpose?
Does each scene or chapter end on an intriguing note?
Are your flashbacks absolutely necessary?
Have you prepared the reader or audience for surprises through foreshadowing?
Are your characters authentic and compelling?
Does your protagonist have difficult problems to overcome, leading to the final solution?
Does your protagonist solve the ultimate problem by realising something about herself she was unaware of before?
Are your characters’ names right for them?
Do your characters have their own unique voice – idiom, speech pattern?
Do you have interesting settings?
Do you invoke the five senses in your scenes.
Is your ending surprising but inevitable?
Does it yield the theme you intended?

If you’ve answered no or maybe to any of these questions highlight them, return to your manuscript, revise and repeat. Your story will be the better for it.


Use a checklist to fine tune your story.


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How to Interrogate Your Story

20 Questions

20 Questions:

To ensure that your story is on track, complete the first draft of your novel or screenplay, then answer the following questions (drawn from Lagos Egri’s superlative work on dramatic writing).

1. What is your story’s premise? For example: “Unswerving integrity delivers from disgrace.” That defines the moral premise/theme of your story.
2. What is your protagonist’s goal? What does your protagonist want, more than anything?
3. What is your protagonist’s compulsive, 100% trait?
4. What is your character insecure about? All characters want self-preservation and security.
5. Why is the character insecure about this condition? How did he or she develop that insecurity about the condition?
6. How did the character develop the condition about which he is insecure? What is this injury for which the character has a compulsive drive to escape? Backstory here. Provide a specific event or series of events that explain how he developed the condition. Those events caused a chain of reaction/action/reaction. Tell the tale.
7. What is the crisis that upsets the status quo? How does it affect the protagonist?
Why is the protagonist dissatisfied?
8. What is the dire necessity that spurs the protagonist to action and keeps him relentless to reach his goal? This is something that threatens his special insecurity.
9. How does hesitation to take action threaten to worsen the protagonist’s situation?
10. What decision will he make or action will he take to change things? This is his point of attack, the decision or action that starts the conflict.
11. Is the protagonist fighting for or against the status quo? Does he want to keep things the way they are, or change them because they’ve become intolerable?
12. Who is your antagonist? He must be diametrically and militantly opposed to the protagonist.
13. Why does the antagonist oppose the protagonist and his goal? What is the antagonist’s motivation?
14. What is the point of 1) contradiction and 2) conflict between them?
15. What is the unbreakable bond between the protagonist and antagonist? What is so much at stake that they can’t leave each other? Multiple reasons are good.
16. What is the wrong step the protagonist makes that starts the crisis?
17. How does this decision create another problem?
18. What does the protagonist do to rectify this new problem?
19. How does this response create another, worse, problem?
20. How does the final crisis, conflict, and resolution prove your premise?


Satisfactorily answering the set of twenty questions listed above will help to keep your characters and story on track.

Writing is Rewriting V & VI

Shiny shoes

Style & Polish:

In these final two revisions of your screenplay, or novel, we look at style and polish.

Some Elements of Style:


A consistently even pace, whether fast or slow, makes for monotony. Go over your entire story and ensure that there is sufficient variation in pace. A fast scene or sequence is usually followed by a slower or quieter scene to allow readers or audiences to take it all in. Additionally, there should be the same kind of variation within some, if not all, the scenes themselves, for much the same reasons.

Tonal Consistency

Do your characters belong in the same screenplay or novel, or do some seem to spring from completely different styles or genres—romantic comedy, science-fiction, historical drama? Although contrasting characters are a good thing, they should not appear to have walked in from the pages of different stories. This tonal consistency goes for the look and feel of settings and costumes, as well as dialogue and overall imagery. Even a cross-genre film such as Cowboys and Aliens attempts stylistic consistency across these disparate genres.


Do your scenes end and lead into each other? If not, use the device of comparison to glue them together more effectively—similar or contrasting dialogue, movement, lighting, and the like.


What is the specific emotion you are aiming for in each scene? Have you achieved it? Remember—believable characters with believable desires in believable situations and relationships make for believable emotions. Look for the pitch of the emotion, then tighten it.

The Final Polish

You are now ready to go through your entire script, line by line. Is this or that word, gesture, or description the best you can come up with? Have all grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors been eliminated? If so, your story is ready to present to the world. Good luck!


Your fifth and sixth drafts concern the elements of style and polish, after which, your story should be ready to be released into the world to fend for itself.


If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.