FIXING THE SMALL BUT VITALLY IMPORTANT STUFF: THE WRITING
The big issues are to do with making the novel to work as a coherent narrative. Once you feel that you have the right scenes in the right places, you can start to begin at the beginning and hone each scene, paragraph and sentence.
1 All the questions you ask about the overall shape and structure of your novel can and should be asked of individual scenes. Do they begin in the right place? Do they contain the right balance of ‘in the moment’ action/dialogue and description, introspection, exposition. Do they fit with the overall tone of the novel and how do they work with the scenes around them. What are they achieving? What do they add to the novel in terms of plot, characterisation, tension building? How could each scene do its job better? Could you make it more vivid/exciting/shocking/ revelatory?
2. Once you are sure that each scene has the right dramatic shape and the right balance of component elements, think about the writing. Are you using the right register of language? Are your sentences over long, is your prose too purple or is it all a bit flat featureless and underwritten? Can you say what you mean to say more succinctly? Does each sentence have the right rhythm? Are ther too many long sentences together? Is the narrative dynamic or is there too much beautifully written prose that serves no particular function. (I like all my paragraphs to work hard, though you may take a different view.)
3. If you are going to use metaphors and similes, do they work within the narrative to illuminate or simply to decorate? I am not a fan of writing that is merely decorative, but again you may disagree. Either way, ensure that such devices are not working against the meaning you wish to convey and that the sentence might not work better without them. Remove all unnecessary words - if a word is not doing something useful in a sentence expunge it.
4. Check for all repetitions and accidental ambiguities, particulalry with pronouns.
5. We all have favourite sentence structures: I overuse ‘but’ all the time. Be aware of them and try to ration your useage. Avoid cliches and qualifiers. Avoid variations on ‘said’ unless they are helpful.
4. At every turn, think about the sentence as part of something bigger. Have you used the right words in the right order and is what you need to say best said in this part of the paragraph or somewhere else. How does each sentence work within the paragraph. This is an aesthetic judgement, but often it is a practical one: don’t tell us what your protag sees when she is through the door, before she has opened it. Chronology, sequencing and logic matter in the ordering of sentences and paragraphs.