5 Questions to Ask When Redrafting Your Novel

Amanda Block portait
Category: Writing

First of all, congratulations! Because if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve finished at least one draft of your novel, so hopefully you’ve given yourself a pat on the back and a little time away from your manuscript.

But what happens when it’s time to redraft? Even if you’ve had a break, it’s difficult to remain objective enough to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your own work. So if diving back in feels like a daunting prospect, here are five key questions to ask yourself as you approach the next stage of writing your novel.

Is the protagonist compelling?

In the scramble to finish a first draft, characterisation can often be neglected, so at this juncture it’s especially important to re-examine your protagonist. Even if they aren’t especially likeable, your central character should be intriguing enough to keep your readers turning the pages, and needs to feel like a fully-developed person rather than just a plot device. Consider their hobbies, habits, secrets and insecurities. Don’t be afraid to give them flaws or have them make mistakes. Above all, be clear on their goals and motivation—what they want in this story, and why—because this will inform their behaviour throughout the book.

Does the story contain enough conflict?

Don’t be too kind, especially to your protagonist

A good tip for storytelling (and a bad tip for life) is don’t be too kind, especially to your protagonist. If your central character feels aimless, it might be because your story doesn’t contain enough conflict, so in the next draft make sure you throw plenty of obstacles into their path. Push your protagonist out of their comfort zone, surprise and unsettle them, and have them struggle and suffer to the point where they almost give up. This will make your story more exciting, your readers more invested, and it will be all the more satisfying when your protagonist ultimately overcomes this adversity.

Do I need all of this material?

Another reason a protagonist can sometimes feel lost in their own story is because that story has become overstuffed with other elements. Perhaps you’ve become distracted by an unexpected subplot, a diverting backstory, or maybe you’ve attempted to cram too much research into your manuscript. As you redraft, try to cut as much of this extraneous material as you can, even if it means being a little ruthless. As a general rule, if a scene doesn’t contribute to the advancement of the plot or the development of the central character, it probably doesn’t belong in the book.   

Is the dialogue effective?

Watch out for overly expositional dialogue

A lot of early drafts contain an excess of dialogue, and this often results in meandering conversations that, again, don’t serve the characters or the story. So be on the lookout for dialogue that can be reduced, and consider shortening and summarising unnecessary conversations by using reported speech instead. Watch out for overly expositional dialogue too, especially when one character tells another something they both already know because you as an author want to relay that information to the reader. Finally, one of the best ways to ensure your dialogue sounds authentic is to read it aloud (in fact, it can be hugely beneficial to read all of your work aloud).

Is the ending satisfying?

When the end of your novel is in sight, it’s tempting to want to get there as quickly as possible, but try to avoid rushing your story’s conclusion. Obviously, not everything needs to be spelled out or neatly resolved, but, in most cases, a book’s ending shouldn't feel too abrupt or lacking in catharsis. It’s worth remembering there’s a fine line between leaving your readers wanting more and simply leaving them dissatisfied, so try to ensure the pacing of the final few pages allows for resonance as well as impact.   

Looking for more help? Check out our advice and resources for writers.

Amanda Block

Amanda Block is a writer and literary consultant based in Edinburgh.

She is the director of Invisible Ink, a literary consultancy that specialises in ghostwriting, mentoring, manuscript assessment, teaching and workshops.