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Monday, February 24, 2020

100+ Questions to Help Evaluate Your Story

Recently, I started putting together a list of questions for myself to consider when evaluating and editing manuscripts--just to get my brain juices flowing. It wasn't until I finished that I realized it might be beneficial for others too.

I'm sure there are topics and questions that I didn't include that are worth considering. And when I edit a manuscript, I focus more on tailoring what I talk about, to that specific manuscript. I also don't necessarily consider all these subject for every edit--again, it depends on the manuscript, the writer, and what kind of edit we decided on.

However, I think this list covers most of the major topics. If you don't understand what the questions are asking, or want to learn more about a topic, I have addressed all these things on my blog, so you can head over to the writing tip index and read until your heart is content (for convenience, I've also put a lot of these links in this article).

One thing: I haven't yet posted the Save the Cat! story structure (it is forthcoming), so in the structure sections, I have terminology that references that, which you won't yet find on here.

Again, keep in mind these are questions to help get me thinking and evaluating--not necessarily "test" questions that strictly tell me whether something is "good" or "bad."

Setting & Worldbuilding

(worth noting is that while a lot of the questions in this section work for any story, some are specific to speculative fiction, which is what I specialize in.)

Did I know where and when the scenes took place?

Was there variety in the setting? Too much repetition? Enough contrast?

Did it draw too much attention to itself at the wrong time? Or not enough at the right time?

Could I picture and experience it?

Did it make sense? In the world? And its purpose?

Would I want to go there? vs. Is it intriguing?

Did the world and societies make sense? Were they believable?

Did having other worlds or societies benefit the story (were they utilized in the plot, or could the story have easily taken place in our world or day)?

Were there parts of the world or society that we really should have seen and experienced that we didn't? Did we experience them enough?

Are there societal conflicts?

Do we get a sense of history about the setting and world? An immediate future?

Did the magic and world follow its own rules?

Was the magic soft or hard or in between? Was it used and addressed appropriately in the story?

Did the world or magic bring in something we haven’t seen before? Or give us a new spin on something familiar? Was it cliché?

Does it connect into something the readers somewhat understand, so that it appeals to wonder more powerfully?

If it is soft magic, does it cause problems for the characters?

If it’s hard magic, does it help solve problems?

Are the costs and limitations of the magic utilized and explored? When appropriate, do we understand its boundaries?

Is the magic utilized in the plot and conflicts?

Related Articles:
5 Most Common Mistakes with Setting 
Maximizing or Minimizing Your Setting


Were the protagonist and other key players round/complex characters?

Do they contrast each other?

Do the key characters arc? How so? Does it fit thematically?

Did the character's abstract want(s) manifest into concrete plot goals?

Did the character exercise enough agency?

Did the character have a ghost? If so, did it suit the story and character?

Did side characters have their own lives? Or did their existence only revolve around the protagonist?

Was the protagonist likeable? Or at least tolerable? Or interesting?

Did they show moments of vulnerability?

Was the antagonist formidable enough?

Are the characters unique enough? Not generic (unless that's the point)?

Could I picture them? 

Did I know their fears?

Did I sympathize with them? Care about them?

Do they have a past history? Plans for the future?

Did the characters struggle and suffer as a "cost" of the journey/goal?

Related Articles:
Breaking Writing Rules Right: "Don't Use Filter Words"  
Crafting a Body Language Voice 
Helps for Writing Children 
3 Redemptive Character Types 
Working with a Large Cast of Characters


What types of conflicts were present? Were all five types in the story (person vs. self, person vs. person, person vs. society, person vs. nature, person vs. God)?

Was any one type underutilized? Should one be present that isn’t?

Is there variety?

Are the conflicts significant? Do we care about them?

Will the conflicts propel the story forward?

Were conflicts resolved too soon?

Or too easily?

Related Articles:

Plot and Structure

Did the story have a clear beginning, middle, and end?

Did it escalate?

Did it utilize cause and effect throughout the plotline?


Was I introduced to the key characters, a significant conflict, and the setting?

Did the beginning establish a sense of normalcy before plot point one? At least in comparison to what will happen after plot point one?

Were the character arc and theme introduced?

Did it hook me? (By getting me to look forward or by curiosity)

Were there stakes?

If there was a prologue, what kind? Did it contribute to the story appropriately?

Was there too much exposition?

Did I care about what was going on?

Did it set the tone?

Was there foreshadowing?

Wants and fears established?

Did we look back on the past too much? Instead of focusing forward?

Consider: Orphan state, Opening Image, Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of Call, Debate, Meeting the Mentor, Crossing the Threshold, Plot Point One, Act I


Did the conflicts and stakes escalate?

Did they build off Act I? (cause and effect)

Did the story broaden or deepen or do both?

Was the theme explored and questioned?

Were there pinch points? Did they apply pressure on the protagonist (directly or indirectly)?

Did the protagonist “react” and then become more “proactive”? (Wanderer to Warrior)

Did the context shift at the midpoint?

Was the midpoint a false win/lose?

Were true friends and enemies made or revealed? Along with any of their abilities or special skills?

Did the protagonist have to battle inner demons?

Were obstacles significant and overcome?

Are the characters growing and changing?

Consider: B story, pinch points, midpoint, Tests, Allies, Enemies, Fun & Games, Approach the Inmost Cave, The Ordeal, Bad Guys Close in, Plot Point 2, All is Lost, Reward, Act II


Did escalation continue into the ending? Broadening, deepening, and stakes?

Did inner demons rise again? Were they defeated?

Was the hero the most active? And if not, did he/she do something most significant?

Did anything new enter the story? If so, was it problematic? Or did it work?

Did the hero need saving? Hopefully not, but if so, did it work?

Were heroic deaths and sacrifices merited?

Was the antagonist its biggest and baddest self?

Was there a showdown with it and the hero?

Would the ending be better with more callbacks?

Was the thematic statement proved and validated?

Was there a twist, surprise, or devastating cost?

Were expectations exceeded?

Were promises kept?

Was there a deus ex machina?

Were opposites crossed? The biggest external problem with the biggest internal problem?

Was the right ending model used?

Did the denouement validate changes and establish a new normal?

Were important loose ends addressed?

Did cause and effect make sense? Did Act II feed into Act III?

Consider: The Road Back, Climax, Resurrection, Return with the Elixir, Denouement, Final Image

Scene & Summary

Did the author know when to write a scene vs. a summary?

Did the writer know how to structure a scene?

How to structure a longer passage of summary?

Did every scene contain a change? If not, did that scene still play an important role?

Were any scenes weak? Should any be made stronger?

Related Articles:


Was the theme topic clear?

Did the character arc exemplify the thematic statement?

Was the story focused on the theme topic? Was there anything that took away from that focus?

Did the character cast contribute to the theme?

Did we start with a false thematic statement and end on a true one?

Was the theme questioned and explored through the middle?

Was it validated by the end?

Was it cliché?

Did the story offer a new insight that hasn’t been seen before?

Or did it exceptionally re-validate a truth already known to the audience?

Does it add purpose to the story? Leave the audience with a point?

If the theme was not illustrated by the main character’s arc, did the main character prove it true, despite being tested about it?

Was it universal enough?

Related Articles:
Why We Need Stories about Dark Things
Can You Write to a Theme? 
Preach vs. Teach 
How to Add Dimension to Your Story's Theme


Did the overall pacing serve the story? Anything that went too fast or too slow?

Were there any scenes or scene sequences where the pacing didn’t work well?

Did hopes, fears, tension, stakes, and hooks feed into the pacing well enough?

How did descriptions affect pacing positively or negatively?

Were significant scenes brushed over too quickly (or worse, left off-page)? Were unimportant parts summarized or dealt with briefly (or appropriately off page or assumed)?

Were there action scenes? Did technicality slow them down too much?

Were there lulls at appropriate moments?

Related Articles:
8 Common Pacing Problems 
How Structure Affects Pacing 

Tension, Stakes, Hooks

Did the story have enough tension (most should have more tension than conflict)?

Could the audience anticipate possible outcomes (to get invested in what could happen)? Could they sometimes anticipate multiple possible outcomes at once?

Did the text regularly “look forward” by getting the audience to hope or fear for significant possible outcomes? Did it utilized both hope (positive) and fear (negative) to get the audience to turn pages? Did it use curiosity or intrigue?

Was potential cause and effect utilized, so that, on occasion, the audience could glimpse a potential “domino” effect?

Were stakes significant? Did they have broad, far-reaching potential consequences or deep, personal potential consequences?

Were decisions and dangers imminent?

Were hooks utilized? Were they worded to best effect?

Did the writer tease what could happen without spoiling it?

Did the text use “If . . . then . . .” statements (implied or directly)?

Related Articles:
Mastering Stylistic Tension 5 Tricks that Help with Hooks 
Look Forward, Not Backward, to Pull the Reader In 
How to Write Stakes in Storytelling
Accidentally Undercutting Tension (and How to Stop)  
Reeling Readers in via Curiosity


Did the narrator/viewpoint character explain/imply enough of what was happening for the audience to follow and understand the text, tension, conflicts, and stakes?

Did the viewpoint character provide emotional context, for the audience? Did they validate (or at least acknowledge) what emotions should typically be felt?

Did the writer appropriately discern what should be context, and what should be subtext? Did context avoid becoming subtext?

Did the audience know where and when they were, what was happening, and why it mattered?

Did the audience follow and understand the story?

Did the narrator/viewpoint character add further meaning and insight into the scenes? Did their perspective add significance? Did their viewpoint matter?

Did the narrator/viewpoint character provide the appropriate tone for the scenes?

If there were teasers—did the audience eventually get context for them?

Was there too much context? Was it bloated? And making the audience feel like they are being treated as unintelligent? Too much “hand-holding”?

Related Articles:
Validating the Reader  
Working with Teasers


Was the story bigger than what was on the page?

Was implication used to let the audience draw the appropriate conclusions?

Did the audience become a participator, rather than a spectator, of the story, because they were able to read between lines?

Was implication strong enough to allow us to come to the right conclusions (most of the time, when appropriate)?

Was implication so strong, it was annoying and drew attention to itself?

Did subtext touch on characters’ pasts and hidden behaviors/motives?

Did dialogue have subtext?

Were the gaps between contradictions related to subtext appropriate?

Related Articles:

Audience Appeal and Experience

Did the story elicit emotions from the audience? If so, how powerfully?

Can the audience relate to the characters? If not, are they intriguing instead?

Does the audience care?

Is there a variety of characters?

Are the conflicts and themes universal enough?

Did the story deliver on the experience promised (and according to the genre)?

Was the story satisfying?

Did the audience experience the setting powerfully?

Did the story hit a variety of emotions, and the appropriate emotions?


Was the viewpoint consistent? (1st, 2nd, 3rd, omniscient OR in how it is handled)?

Was there head hopping?

Was the viewpoint choice the best for the story?

Was the viewpoint character the same as the protagonist? If not, why not?

If there are multiple viewpoint characters, was the best character chosen for each scene?

Did having that viewpoint character be the viewpoint character, contribute to meaning and insight and audience experience in the scene?

Does the story utilize point of view penetration? And go to the right depths at the right times? Or does the story zoom in and out randomly?

How well was introspection handled? Was there too much? Did it add to the story? Or only tell us things we already knew?

Did introspection focus on the past too much and the future not enough?

Were there minor viewpoint errors?

Were the prose infused with the viewpoint character’s worldview, attitude, and feelings? Did it tell us more about that character?

Were “filter words” overused?

Related Articles:
Breaking Writing Rules Right: "Don't Use Filter Words"  


Did the characters in significant relationships foil each other in relevant ways?

Did they have (or grow) a sense of history? Did their relationship evolve and change?

Did we get a sense of how well they knew each other?

Did they share vulnerable moments?

Did they grow together?

Make sacrifices for each other?

Show some form of affection for each other?

Have an appropriate “meet cute” or first meeting (and ideally, one that is specific and unique to them)?

Are there hardships, weaknesses, hurts, difficulties in the relationship?

Do they develop their own culture (inside jokes, what’s acceptable vs. not acceptable, mottoes and lifestyles)?

Do they work together?

Are they too much alike? Get along too perfectly? Share too many of the same ideas?


Did the dialogue use subtext? Did it say more than what was on the page?

Was it indirect, especially to hold tension?

And when it was direct, was it during the appropriate time and topic to release tension?

Did it sound realistic?

Was there maid-and-butler dialogue?

Did the story rely on dialogue too much to convey information, exposition, and context to the audience?

Were characters too direct in expressing their intense, true feelings?

Did key characters have their own unique character voice?

Was there circuitry in dialogue exchanges, or did the characters simply respond to each other?

Was the dialogue generic?

Were lines called back?

Anything quotable?

Were dialogue tags and modifiers appropriate to the dialogue? Did the dialogue itself do most of the work, instead of the tags and modifiers?

Related Articles:
(Don't) Tell Me How You Really Feel
How to Punctuate Dialogue 
Writing Callbacks 


Did the story regularly appeal to the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste)?

Were modifiers (such as adjectives, adverbs) reined in and controlled? And utilized to their best?

Could I picture what was being described accurately?

Were there enough descriptions?

Did the descriptions contribute to the story, tone, and pacing?

Were the descriptions purple prose?

Did the descriptions bring a new perspective or view to something?

Did the writer pick the right details to describe?

Were the descriptions too stagnant?

Were significant things given more descriptions? And the insignificant, less?

Were there character tags?

Related Articles:


Did the story utilize blocking?

Could I picture how the characters interacted with the setting and each other?

Was the blocking consistent?

Was it used to emphasize points and emotions?

And did it impact pacing appropriately?

Could I follow the blocking?

Was it specific without being too detailed?

Was there spatial vagueness?

Did it convey character?

Related Article:
How to Handle Blocking


Was the appropriate tone used for the scene/story?

Were there “tone deaf” moments?

Could tone have been stronger in certain parts?

Did it switch inappropriately mid-scene?

Was it unrefined?

Was there enough variety of tone?

Related Articles:
Exactly How to Create and Control Tone


What are the major emotional draws?

Was there variety in the emotions felt? Was there contrast?

Were emotions rendered empathetic or sympathetically? Was each approach used at the right time?

Were any of the emotions too sentimental?

Was there any melodrama?

Were the most powerful emotional moments rendered in deep POV?

Were raw emotions and subdued emotions used at the appropriate times?

Did I feel like I was experiencing those emotions?

Did the story have an emotional impact on me? How strong or weak was the impact?

Did the writers use the same emotional indicators over and over? (“Smiling” and “laughing” whenever someone is happy, etc.)

Was too much emotional tension released through the characters, so that the audience couldn’t feel it? (example: characters crying too much and at the wrong times, releasing that tension so the audience doesn’t have it.)

Could the emotional experience have been more powerful by crossing opposites?

Related Articles:

Style, Flow, Clarity

Was the style at a professional level?

Did the prose flow properly?

How accurately did the writer communicate what was intended to the audience? Was there enough clarity?

Was the writer specific?

Did the writer understand how to start and end a scene properly?

Did style and flow contribute to pacing appropriately?

Was it easy to read?

Was sentence structure utilized to best effect? Was it varied?

Was punctuation proper?

Grammar and tense accurate?

Any continuity errors?

Was showing and telling used appropriately?

Was the writing vague?

Related Articles:
Breaking Writing Rules Right: "Don't Use Filter Words"  
How to Use the Thesaurus Properly
5 Tricks that Help with Hooks
How Structure Affects Pacing
How Often Should I "Refresh" a Pronoun? 
When and How to Weaken a Passage  
Vague Vs. Ambiguous: Which are You Writing?
How to Punctuate Dialogue 
How to Use an Ellipsis Properly
How to Use a Dash—in Fiction Writing
The Easiest Explanation of Semicolons ;)

Breaking Writing Rules Right: "Show, don't Tell"  


Was the title effective?

The chapter lengths appropriate?

Were there any believability issues? 

Did the text work off and address probability over reality?

How original were the ideas?

If writing rules were broken, was it to great effect?

If there were flashbacks, were they used to the best of their ability? Were they overused?

Is the writer satisfied with the work?

Related Articles:
How to Come up With Great Titles 
Inconceivable! Dealing with Problems of Unbelievability
Breaking Writing Rules Right: "Don't Use Flashbacks"


Just a quick note to say that I am looking to fill up some editing slots for spring. If you are interested in my editing services, check out Fawkes Editing


  1. What a great article! I'm a fan of your posts in general, but have bookmarked this page specifically for future reference.

    Many thanks,


    1. Nate,

      Thanks! Glad it is helpful! And thank you for reading my stuff :)


I love comments :)