The problems with Prequels and short story writing

I have taken a break from novel writing. I wrote a prequel to my YA Dystopian/Sci-fi/Action Adventure series – The Song of Forgetfulness – a few months ago, and to be honest, it was more difficult than writing the first two.

author banner for FB event

Why?

Well, because I needed to explain some of the backstory whilst avoiding having my heroine, Adara, know more than she does in the prequel than in the following books. It was quite gruelling. I changed it so many times that I became confused as to what version was the correct one.

Then I did a silly thing.

I uploaded the un-edited version onto Createspace and KDP. It wasn’t until I got the Proof paperback copy that I realised my mistake. Thankfully, I hadn’t started promoting it and only sold a few copies.

Note to self – don’t do this again!

Anyway, as I said, I decided to go back to short story writing and began working on Crow Bones, the title story in my next anthology. To my surprise, it was even more difficult to write than the prequel Whisper Gatherers, which is over 60,000 words. This story is a mere 9,000.

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Sylvia Plath once said that a writer needs to be, ‘An expert packer of suitcases.’ She was right. Choosing the right words to tell a story, especially a short one, is crucial and difficult. I’d been allowing myself the luxury of going with the story and letting it wander this way and that. A bit like I tend to do when writing a novel where I allow myself to be generous with words in the first few drafts.

I admit I was struggling with Crow Bones because I didn’t really know what it was about. I was putting words down and making interesting descriptions, blah, blah, blah, but saying nothing. So I looked at my story and asked myself, ‘What is it about?’ When I answered the question, the words changed. The story changed. The genre changed. It is now Sci-fi. I got rid of unnecessary characters, over complicated plot twists, and concentrated on my theme – guilt and grief – and the new story came alive, as did the dialogue and characterisation. Finally, after months of struggling with it (It took only six weeks to write the novel) I have arrived at a version I am happy with. I think.

Here is the beginning of Crow Bones:

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The window is dirty. Blotches of grey obscure the decaying houses and unmended pathways before me. I’ll not clean it. I prefer not to watch as bit-by-bit my community perishes. I turn my eyes upwards, away from the sad scene outside.

Squinting, I observe the pale yellow sun hanging alone in the cloudless sky. Poor thing, its fire has weakened so. Causing our once lush land to succumb to frost and stone-hard earth. Now we drape thick coats around ourselves, even in summer.

The spots of grime on the pane look like tiny birds halted in mid air, by what? The knowledge that their existence is almost up, like the rest of us. Not yet, though. Stargazers say we have many more years before that fading star expires. So why do I feel as if that time has already come?

Because we are dwindling and can no longer repair our lodgings or roads. We have lost the spark to continue and thrive. The barley blight was tough on our community. My mumum and dadad, and many other of the older generation succumbed to the lung clogging disease. We became weakened by it, dying out like most of the other creatures in this shrivelling planet. Yet we adhere to the one-child rule. That was our shame, our guilt, and our crime, to allow two to germinate inside my womb.

I listen to my babe softly breathing and watch a piece of wall from my parent’s house opposite, crumble and fall, leaving a small hole like a puncture wound.

I hope you enjoyed reading the extract.

If you would like to know more about The Song of Forgetfulness, or my short stories, here are some links:

Book series site: http://www.thesongofforgetfulness.com/

Author Website: http://www.nicolamcdonagh.com/

A Time for Change – revisited

boris on grass This new year has brought about restlessness within me. There is something about January and February that makes me want to start all over again. So, I decided I would do just that.

I have two YA Dystopian/Sci-Fi books published by an independent publisher that are languishing on Amazon. I have quite a few excellent 4* and 5* reviews, but I’m still not getting the sales that reflect the enthusiasm of the reviewers. I stopped to think why.

Maybe the blurb isn’t right?

Maybe I’m not doing enough to promote, or get myself noticed?

Perhaps it is the covers?

Well, the answer is all of the above, I guess.

My gut reaction was to re-edit both books. I wasn’t happy with the ending of the first novel in the series, The Song of Forgetfulness. Echoes from the Lost Ones had too much of a cliff-hanger finish, which meant that book two, A Silence Heard, would need to be changed to accommodate the revisions. Then I remembered I had a prequel! On re-reading it, I realised that this series could be something special – with the right marketing.

Firstly, I turned my attention to the covers.

echoes cover for email                                 A Silnce Heard cover sml

The cover for the first book in the series – The Song of Forgetfulness – is okay and does have relevance to the content, but the second one does not. In fact it is misleading. I’m not saying that the covers are hindering the sales of my books, but they aren’t helping, in my opinion.

Here are my new designs for the covers of Echoes from the Lost Ones, and A Silence Heard.

I am attempting to reflect the futuristic atmosphere and tension that is present in the narrative. Also, the images I have used are relevant to the story. They aren’t the finished product, just mock-ups, but I like them better than the old ones – so far.

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It felt good to throw out the old, re-edit my books, and change the covers. Maybe I can attract the attention of readers by giving them a more rewarding reading experience. Plus, I am going to swot up on how to market and publicise for greater effect. I hope it works. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

What do you think? Feedback would be very useful. Especially any tips on marketing and promotion. Thank you:)

You can watch trailers for the books on Youtube:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQ8o_mBopYM

If you would like to know more about me and my writing, please visit these websites: http://www.nicolamcdonagh.com/ http://www.thesongofforgetfulness.com/      

Using a foreign language in children’s novels

In the book I’ve just finished – Marauders of the Missing Mummies – I have a section that takes place in a bazaar located somewhere in Egypt. Now, in order to add some credibility and interest to the dialogue, I decided that one of the stall holders, pertinent to the plot, would converse in French as it seems it is the language spoken by many Egyptians today. I’m not fluent in French. In fact, the last time I was in France and conversed in the lingo, I just about managed to make myself understood by the locals. That was nearly twenty years ago. So you can imagine how rusty my grasp of French grammar is.  I have posted the section here to ask those of you who do speak French, if what I have written makes sense. So, please, if anyone out there reads this, could you set me straight and let me know how I can improve. Thanks! new cover for marauders Here is the extract:

“Don’t go over to her. Wait, no. Erica,” Hannah said and ran after Van Clutch as she marched to where the old woman sat. “You can’t even speak Egyptian.” She tugged on Van Clutch’s sleeve. Erica pulled her arm away and gave Hannah a raised eyebrow look.

“No, but I do speak French. And I suspect, that she does to. It is by far the most commonly used language in these parts.” Erica flared her nostrils and turned to the seated woman. “Bonjour, Madam. Je m’appelle Erica Van Clutch.”

The gnarled-faced female licked her yellow chipped front teeth and spat something green onto the floor beside Erica’s feet. “Je m’appelle Ramia.”

“Prophetess. How fitting,” Van Clutch said and Ramia grinned. “I’m going to question her about the Dalby child. Dites-moi ce que vous savez de la petite fille.”

“Je ne te dirai rien. Sorcière.”

“What did she say?”

“What I expected. She won’t spill. Oh and she thinks I am a witch. Do not snicker. See, now you’ve loosened your sinuses again. Wipe your nose before the mucus forms another bubble.”

Kush ran the back of her hand across her face and sniffed. Erica spoke to Ramia. She stared into the brown eyes of the old woman and said, “Si vous ne me dites pas au sujet de la fille, je jetterai un charme sur vous.”

“What?”

“Sshhhh, Kush I’m trying to intimidate her by utilising her fear of me. I’m suggesting that I will cast a spell on her if she doesn’t reveal all. Now hush and let me do my thing.” Van Clutch closed her eyes, pressed her hands together in a prayer-like pose and tilted her head to the heavens. She partly opened her lips and began to whisper meaningless words in a growly whisper. “Unmanondium. Cliventinium. Postargrindum. Dractilvarus. Plantricula. Verbotivis.’ She snapped open her eyes and glared at Ramia.

“Wow, Erica, I didn’t know you knew Latin. What have you done? What terrible spell have you cast upon that poor old lady?”

“Dammit, Kush, keep quiet. I’m trying to intimidate with made up Latin words. Now I’ve lost the flow and can’t think of any more. And cease using my first name. I need to maintain credibility here.”

“Oh, right, sorry.”

“Shhhh!” Van Clutch gasped and thrust her clenched fingers to the sky. “Revoltinum. Bletherinus. Mumbojumbis!” She clapped seven times, lowered her arms and pointed at Ramia. “Je vous maudis avec des ébullitions et le mal de tête.”

“She doesn’t look very scared. What spell did you cast?”

“I cursed her with boils and headaches.”

“Oh, poor thing. That’s terrible.”

“You do realise that I can’t actually put a spell on her. I am not a witch.”

“That’s what Sadika calls you behind your back.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh, nothing. Look, Van Clutch, the old woman, she’s getting up. She looks really angry.”

“Les dieux vous dévoreront,” Ramia said and stood. She waved her hands in front of Erica’s face. “Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

A strong breeze skipped and swirled through the dusty street. Cigarette butts, bits of paper and half eaten sandwiches danced and fluttered around Erica’s knees and thighs. She brushed the debris away and titled her head towards the sky. Black clouds rumbled overhead and the sun escaped behind them causing darkness to fall. The busy thoroughfare hushed and people stood still. Ramia snarled and lifted her arms high. A flash of lightning and an ear-splitting bang of thunder echoed around the wide avenue. Erica stood tall and unflinching when raindrops as big as fists splashed down causing shoppers and trades folk to scuttle for shelter. Kush put her fingers in her ears and hid behind Van Clutch. Ramia glared at Erica and said in a husky growl, “Les dieux vous dévoreront.” A savage wind whipped against the shins of Kush and Van Clutch. “Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

“Oh do stop saying that the gods will eat me, Ramia. They will not.”

“Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

“Les dieux ne me dévoreront pas. Oh this is just ridiculous. Kush, do you have any money?” she said to a trembling Hanna. “Kush!” Erica turned and took hold of Hanna’s forearms. She pulled them down from where they were pressed against her face and said, “Pull yourself together. Good. Now, do you have any money?”

Kush blinked and swallowed. “A bit.”

“How much?”

“Thirty quid.”

“Hand it over. I’ve had enough of Ramia and her rants.” Erica held out her hand and Kush rummaged around in her trouser pocket. She pulled out a bundle of notes and handed them to Van Clutch. Another thunderclap and flash of lightening burst above their heads and Erica shook hers as she watched Kush crouch on the ground and tremble with fear. She tutted, turned to Ramia, who was standing with her arms open to the heavens and said, “Ce qui vous savent la fille?” Then she waved the money in front of the woman’s wild eyes. “Ah, now I have your attention. The girl, what do you know?”

Ramia snatched the money and thrust it down the front of her blouse. The clouds rumbled away and the wind dropped. Erica folded her arms. “Ce qui vous savent?”

Ramia snorted and picked up a small woollen ibis. She turned it over and revealed a zip that ran from the toy’s bottom right up to its neck. She nodded an all-knowing nod, adding a wink and pushed it against Erica’s chest. “A l’intérieur,” she said and mimed looking into an invisible bag.

“Oh, it’s inside this. Excellent,” Erica said, took the bird and opened the zip. She pulled out a rolled up piece of paper and unravelled it. “Mentioned by name too. Well, well, it says here that the Dalby girl is the host. Marvelous.” She threw the knitted animal over her shoulder and stood over Kush. “Get up, you whimpering fool. Time to go.”

Kush rose slowly and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Are we safe?”

“We are, Kush my dear. However, the young Dalby is not.” Erica grinned, screwed up the paper, shoved it into her mouth and swallowed. “There now, all done.”

“Why did you do that?”

“That raving old woman called upon the gods to devour me, well, I have eaten them instead. This missive scrawled in the words of the gods and written in blood, gave away a secret about the Dalby brat. These words are powerful. They could have destroyed me if I had read on, but I did not. I have turned the tables. Now I possess their power,” Van Clutch said and raised her head to the cloudless sky.

Spotlight on Fantasy author RT Worth

Doom Absolute series: What if death can be cheated?

I am very pleased to introduce to you a very talented writer and illustrator whose novels, Doom Absolute, and Heretic, I had the pleasure to read and review recently. (My reviews are at the end of this spotlight.)

 

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 We all die – it’s inevitable.

But, what if you were offered the chance to come back?  Change your ways, live life to the full, do all the things you wanted to do?

Alma is gifted that chance, and she takes it without question.  Barely in her teens, her life cruelly cut short in a world even more cruel.  She seizes that opportunity with both hands, jumps in with reckless youthful abandon, waves away the small print. Thank you very much.

Now, trapped between the world of the dead and the living she races against the clock, stalked by supernatural forces and even the enemies responsible for her demise – to fulfil her contract before it’s too late and is dragged kicking and screaming to a place with no way out; for the rest of time.

And now for the sequel Heretic:

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The smoke and dust settle, and the fires go out.

Alma leads a normal life; it’s what she’d always wanted.  Blending in with others her age, she could be just a regular girl: phoning her friends, tormenting boys, not caring about the little things.  A far cry from the girl that helped bring down the skyscraper of a mega-conglomerate, that wriggled out the world of the dead by the skin of her teeth and defy Algor Mortis.

Now it’s a different kind of problem.  Her new school, rife with bullies, picking on her and her friends because they’re different.  Intent on causing misery.  But she won’t have it; they’re messing with the wrong girl.  All this to worry about and still her powers won’t leave her alone, still the freak in her itching to get out, no matter how hard she tries to forget.

Those she defied haven’t forgotten the name Alma.  She might have defeated them, vanished somehow with her companions from right under their noses, but they can’t forget. Won’t forget.

The smoke and dust have settled, and the fires may have gone out.  But revenge was always a dish best served cold.

You’ve read the blurb, you’ve seen the book covers – now, please give a warm welcome to RT Worth!

Born 5/3/1980 London UK. RT attended Wolverhampton University for BA illustration.

Doom Absolute is his first novel and RT has plans to run the series for six volumes. I can’t wait!

Let’s get to know RT a little better:

I see you started out as an illustrator, when did you decide to become a writer?

My early twenties were the turning point for me; that’s when I decided to give a novel a real go. If not just to get some of those ideas cluttering up my head down on paper.

Have you ever considered penning a graphic novel?

 I penned a graphic novel during college; various adventures involving me and my mates. But now? I don’t think so. The closest I get is mocking up storyboards to play out certain scenes in my books. I have a lot of respect though for the guys who produce graphic novels. A lot of those guys work in pairs: the writer and the artist. I think working with another person would be quite hard. You’d really have to trust that person to deliver your ideas across the way you intended.

 You don’t give much away in your bio, could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

 I’ve always enjoyed writing, from as early as junior school. I used to hand in extra homework to my English teacher to mark, but really it was me trying to see what he made of my creative writing. I received the highest mark in my SATs for the creative writing exercise, and I’m pretty certain my creative writing got me through my GCSEs. When I left school I still didn’t know what a noun or verb was. I went to Wolverhampton Uni to study Illustration, but became ‘disenchanted’ by the whole setup and left to find a job a year and half into the course. I don’t regret leaving. Since then I have been in full-time employment and writing furiously in my spare time.

Where did you get the idea from to write the Doom Absolute series?

My sister was working as a rep in Scotland and was badgering me for some penmail, so I decided to write a series of short stories for her. I’d send an episode or two away to her and then give her a choice which direction she’d like to take the story. Many of the characters that are in Doom Absolute were in this penmail! The whole cast took me about an hour to mock up: I looked around my room, noted my cactus plant, the cat on my bed, dog on my floor. I was eating a banana with my left hand and my sister’s middle name…? Alma.

 Alma

Did you do any research into myths and legends before writing the books?

 I’ve always been drawn to the supernatural, and have a healthy knowledge of Greek and Norse mythology. If that’s transferred itself into my stories then it was subconsciously. I always try to be original. For creatures I use that aren’t original I’ll take an unusual stance with them and surprise the reader. I’m itching to get some giant hairy spiders into my story. I think they get a bad rep.

I really like the character, Pepsi, do you have a favourite character, if so what is it about them that you like?

I’ve always liked Fantastic Cactus; I’m a big fan of the anti-hero character. As a writer you can do pretty much whatever you like with them. The reader knows deep down they’re good –just don’t be surprised if they say/do something you don’t like.

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cactus

 

 

What is your favourite genre to write in and why?

Fantasy. It’s always about fantasy. I fly that flag high and proud.

Do you have a favourite author/s?

I quite like Paulo Coelho. His words are inspiring.

 Do you prefer drawing to writing prose?

Absolutely not. I’ve never really truly enjoyed painting/drawing. Writing on the other hand makes my heart sing. I guess that’s how you know what you’re meant to be.

Has anyone inspired you in regards to how you write?

I think Elmore Leonard is a fantastic writer. Reading his novels taught me a lot in regards dialogue. I recommend any aspiring writer to read one or two of his novels; the man is a master.

 When you are not writing, what do you do?

 Listen to music; go for long walks with the pooch.

Where do you write and what time of the day do you prefer to work?

I’m flexible. I’ll write whenever I can. I always carry a notebook around with me at work however. If I get an idea I’ll jot it down quickly before I lose it. I’ve got pages and pages of ideas and conversations waiting to go down.

What do you find the most difficult thing about writing? Editing, thinking of a title, starting, ending, you know that kind of thing.

For me it’s getting that main plot together. Once I’m happy with the proposed plot arc I’ll let the characters take the story along and let the twists and turns happen as I get to them. It’s quite a natural easy process.

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If your book were to be made into a film, who would play your lead characters?

 Alma – Chloe Grace Moretz

Moto – Palm –Not sure on this one.

Pepsi – (voice of Bill Murray)

Maxi – (voice of Elizabeth Dawn)

Ellis – John Mahoney

The Cardinal – Daniel Day-Lewis

FC – (voice of Vin Diesel)

Ed – Elle Fanning

Styard – Jason Gordon-Levitt

Batisma – Ben Kingsley

The Count – Hmmm another tricky one, this.

 If you could spend a day in a book as your favourite character, who would you be, what book would it be, and why?

 I’d be General Marc (Heretic). I’d love to have that army at my command, and all that tradition and magic to guard her homeland. Not for the day Alma turned up though.

 One last question: what are you working on now?

Right now I’m creating an illustrated book of wild-lore for the website. The third book is still in the initial stages. Books are like stews to me. When it’s ready it’s ready.

Thank you RT for some wonderful answers.

If you want to know more about RT Worth and his novels, then check out the links below. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. I for one will be keeping my eyes open and my breath baited in anticipation of this talented authors’ next installment of the Doom Absolute series.

Here is the official website (for more illustrations), links and blog.

http://doomabsolute.com/

Facebook:

Twitter:https://twitter.com/rtworth

Contact: rtworth@hotmail.co.uk

Purchasing ebooks.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Doom-Absolute-R-T-Worth-ebook/dp/B0093QMA1O

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/doom-absolute

Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/doom-absolute-richard-worth/1118944757?ean=2940149596348

 

 My reviews for Doom Absolute and Heretic:

 

Doom Absolute Weird and Wonderful

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I wasn’t sure what to say about this book at first, not because it is bad, but because it is so odd – in a good way. I loved the concept of writing about a place almost Purgatory like, where the dead abide, but have the opportunity to escape. In this strange world, some are given the chance to live again. A young girl, Alma, is offered this opportunity and we are transported into a dream-like universe where plants are people, people are plants, gnomes are evil, insects are huge and some even friendly, and everything is not what it seems. For Alma to return to the land of the living, she must honour the contract she made, but time is running out for our confused heroine and she must battle against other-worldly forces and those responsible for her untimely death, before it is too late.

I really enjoyed reading this odd book. The author, RT Worth, has a vivid imagination. I loved his ideas and the strange occupants of this dead/alive world are truly original. Alma has many odd creatures that help her with her quest to become one of the living again. One of my favourites is The Fantastic Cactus character, or Greenman. He not only speaks, but also helps Alma to escape her death prison and pops up now and then when she is in peril. My other favourite is the cat, Black Knight that Alma saves from Shindy’s Arena. This animal becomes her bodyguard and has some very useful supernatural powers that aid Alma in finishing her quest.

The only thing that bothered me and kept my rating from being a 5 (4.7) is that there weren’t enough detailed physical descriptions of these weird locations. There were times when I couldn’t visualise the setting, which is important in a narrative like this, where places are alien to the reader. Other than that, a great book! The ending does not disappoint either and I was happy to see that there will be more escapades for this unusual heroine. I look forward to reading more from this fine writer.

 

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Heretic: Weirder and weirder.

I loved Doom Absolute and its weird world and creatures, so was excited to read Heretic. In the second book our heroine, Alma, is alive and back in school, coping with all the stuff that teens go through. Except that she is different. She has been dead and is now finding being alive again hard. But she soon meets up with others not too dissimilar to herself. Her transition and those of her friends, is not easy, as they need to be medicated in order to stay alive. Their bodies seem to be their enemies now and strange poisons and life threatening weaknesses are hampering their difficult existence in the normal world.

Although it is well written and believable, I was getting a bit fed up with theses initial chapters, thinking that this was going to be just another teen book, but to my joy, the weirdness kicked in again and the author let loose his marvellous creations. For me, RT Worth excels when he writes about the quirky and surreal in his books. More myths and magic unfolds and our heroine discovers that she has a secret inside that she doesn’t want at all. She battles with enemies that are truly bizarre in a struggle to understand who or what, she really is. There are some wonderful characters in this story, but a particular favourite of mine was Pepsi, the cat guardian. I was heartbroken when he disappeared, presumed dead.

There were a few too many POV changes throughout, but not enough to detract from a great narrative, once the supernatural side of things kicked in and the talking cactus arrived, and The Powers that Be took control again. Dream worlds mix with reality and our heroine struggles to live a normal life surrounded as she is by creatures from another world. These crossings from reality to otherworldly settings are often jarring and confusing, but they do add to the overall feel of strangeness and disquiet that heightens the sense of alienation. I assume this is to reinforce the fact that Alma feels uncomfortable in her reanimated body.

The novel seems to be in two parts, and the second part – Marc v Alma – had me quite confused. As always I enjoyed the narrative and its quirkiness, but the jumps from POV had my head spinning. Heretic is packed with detail, miss a sentence or two and well, you’ve lost the plot. I did find parts of it a little repetitious and I think the novel could be improved with some pruning and editing to make it snappier and less overstocked with storyline, which is a bit complex.

Sometimes it got a bit confusing going between the real and dream/imagination, and I had to stop and think what was what several times before continuing. Maybe RT Worth could have let the POV stay with the main character throughout the narrative. I was often tempted to flick past the school passages and onto the more strange episodes that are truly readable, but I persevered with them in case I missed something.

Having said all that, I did really enjoy this book and truly believe that RT Worth is a talented storyteller with an amazing imagination. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a quirky and darkly humorous fiction. There are some wonderful descriptions that bring the narrative alive and keep the reader on the edge of their seat. I eagerly await the next instalment.

yellow man

 

 

 

Editing Your Work

Ah, that word so evocative of heartache and worry – EDITING!

I am currently editing the second book in a series, and it is hard. I keep putting it off and doing other things.

Making soup, taking photographs of random insects, writing Sestinas, and cutting my own hair. Anything except editing my work.

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I asked myself why, and replied, ‘Because it is hard work and because it feels like I am slicing bits of my own flesh off each time I cut a sentence or paragraph.’

But deep down I know it is necessary to prune and hone my narrative to make it the best it can be. So I got together a list of what to look for when I edit.

If I have missed anything out, please do let me know!

Editing – Some things to look out for and check:

Over long sentences that would be more dramatic or effective if they were more concise. (Did you see what I did there?)

Choose the right/appropriate word.

Get rid of unnecessary repetition of words and or ideas.

Use appropriate similes to enrich the narrative. Get rid of inappropriate or redundant similes.

Typos. Grammatical errors. Punctuation.

Tighten the language. Depending on what genre you are writing in, make sure your sentence length reflects the mood and pace of the narrative.

Are your characters believable?

Is your dialogue naturalistic?

Do you tell too much?

Does your story have a strong beginning?

Is the storyline/plot believable?

Is the ending satisfactory? Does it make sense with the rest of the story?

Does your story get stodgy around the middle?

Do incidental characters add anything to the plot? If not, erase them.

Is the setting described well enough?

Is the point of view consistent?

Are there scenes that can be cut?

Now creeps ever forward the editing bug. Image