Studying a Novel like it’s a Textbook

Critical Editing Worksheet

A novel is a biography on its characters and a historical, geographical, cultural outline of its universe. Is all the necessary information given to the readers?

Download a PDF of this Worksheet

INSTRUCTIONS

While reading, highlight or take notes on the key facts

Advanced: Differentiate between world-building facts, setting details, and character histories

QUESTIONS

Consistency: Are the facts consistent throughout the story? Are facts deliberately misconstrued for the readers or by the characters and corrected later?

Timing and Frequency: How soon are the facts about the world, setting, and characters given? Are the crucial details mentioned early enough? Could some details be given later? How often are the facts about the facts reiterated, expanded upon, or hinted at? Are they re-explained too often or not often enough? Rehearsed in too much detail or too vaguely?

Methodology: In what ways are the facts given and are they given in the most effective ways? Some possibilities: through dialogue, exposition, or by example

  • Dialogue: “Silver bullets hurt werewolves? That’s not just a myth?”
  • Exposition: The hunters’ ammunition was made of pure silver. The precious metal was one of his species’ only weaknesses.
  • Example: His leg burned. Shit! Welts formed around the bullet wound on his thigh, and his blood sizzled from contact with the poisonous metal.

Genre-Dependence: How many of the details are consistent with the typical lore of the genre? Does the story rely heavily on the conventions used by other authors? What if this is the first book the reader encounters of its genre?

Genesis and Evolution: What’s the history/explanation for why things are the way they are? Do the reasons for the rules and facts of the built universe need to be explained to the reader?

STUDYING WHILE WRITING

Consider creating note cards or a “cheat sheet” to use while writing.

Perhaps leave highlighted facts so that these sentences and passages aren’t cut during editing.

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