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Holly Lisle

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You have to check the status of your novel now and again during the writing process---things do go wrong, after all. Consider the halfway mark a good point to take a breather, get out a notebook, and do a quick assessment of what you've done so far.

Mid-point assessment is NOT the time to start rewriting, though. Not even if you've gone tearing off in the wrong direction somewhere down the line. Assessment is a thinking step (and a taking-notes step), not revision. Four questions will help you determine the course of your story, and whether you're getting what you want from it so far or not. So, notebook in hand, ask yourself these questions:

First...are you having any fun?

I'm absolutely serious about this question. Writers in the middle of their novels frequently slide into this 'grit-teeth-and-grind-forward' mode that kills their spontaneity, makes writing miserable, and allows them to do huge amounts of really bad work before stopping to realize they've gone off in the wrong direction. Writing is NOT the job that's supposed to suck. Jamming ahead while hating life is as sign that your book went over a cliff somewhere and you missed the crash.

If your story is heading where it ought to be, you'll be having fun---even if the writing is a lot of work. You'll be excited about the twists and turns you're coming up with, you'll love your characters and what they're doing, you'll have to quell the urge to show off or read important passages to unsuspecting family members. This is the way you want the writing to feel. If you've taken a wrong turn, on the other hand, the writing is going to feel like drudgery---like punishment. If it ever feels like punishment, stop right away. Something has gone wrong with the story.

Second, does your Sentence still work?

(I talked about The Sentence, which is a tool you use to define your story, in a previous article.) If the book you're writing still fits the concepts, characters, and twist in your Sentence, go on to the next question.

If it doesn't, you're either going to have to figure out how to make the book fit The Sentence, or how to rewrite The Sentence to fit the book. If you're still passionate about your original concepts and characters, figure out where you've gone wrong in the story. If you love your new direction, figure out via The Sentence what these changes you've made will mean to your bigger picture.

Third, are your characters the people you want them to be?

They don't have to be carrying out your orders like little clockwork automatons, but they do need to be working, not sitting around the pool drinking tea and sneering at you whenever you try to put them into a scene. There are ways of dealing with problem characters---but first, you have to recognize that you have a problem, and that they're it.

Finally, how's your plot holding up?

My students generally use my plot card technique---plot cards allow you to be flexible, to move things around, to toss cards that no longer lie along the path your story is taking. But you shouldn't have to toss them all. And every plot card should make sense in relation to every other plot card, and the whole should add up to a complete story. If they don't---if your book has somehow become a series of unrelated incidents, it's time to go back to plot cards and figure out what you've missed, and how to fit it in.

At this point, you're probably wondering why you don't just go ahead and make the changes you see you're going to have to make. The answer is simple, though a bit strange.

You're not finished yet, and any revisions you do halfway through may have to be tossed when the second half of the story takes an unexpected turn.

For now, mark out problem areas, figure out workable fixes you can make when you're done, and then get back to writing, knowing that everything is fixable. Just not yet fixed.

You can do this.

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Holly Lisle, full-time novelist and author of more than 30 published novels, teaches you how to write a book in How To Think Sideways: Career Survival School For Writers. You can download three free course modules today and receive her free writing tips right now at
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MLA Style Citation:
Lisle, Holly "Assess Your Novel-Writing Progress With These Four Questions." Assess Your Novel-Writing Progress With These Four Questions. 10 Mar. 2009 24 Nov. 2017 <>.
APA Style Citation:
Lisle, Holly (2009, March 10). Assess Your Novel-Writing Progress With These Four Questions. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from
Chicago Style Citation:
Lisle, Holly "Assess Your Novel-Writing Progress With These Four Questions." Assess Your Novel-Writing Progress With These Four Questions
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