Skip to main content

Blogs / For Writers / Take Your Story up Several Levels by Editor Jodie Renner

Take Your Story up Several Levels by Editor Jodie Renner

Today it is our pleasure to welcome editor & author Jodie Renner to share expert editing advice. Jodie is generously sharing her wisdom on how to improve your story before you share it with others.

Jodie is an editor and award-winning author of three Editor’s Guides to Writing Compelling Fiction:

  • Writing a Killer Thriller
  • Fire up Your Fiction
  • Captivate Your Readers

Jodie’s writing guides can be found in both print and e-book form on all Amazon sites, Chapters-Indigo online, and elsewhere, including directly from Jodie in Penticton, BC.

Over to Jodie…

Take Your Story up Several Levels with These Questions for You – and Your Beta Readers

by Jodie Renner, editor & author

So you’ve finally completed the first draft of your novel or short fiction? Congratulations! Now it’s time to start the critical, multilayered revision process that will make your story clear, concise, and compelling. Following the guidelines below will amp up your narrative, save you bundles in editing costs, and spare you embarrassing negative reviews (which you can never get rid of) on Amazon and elsewhere.

First, to gain some detachment and objectivity, put your story aside for a week or more and focus on other things.

Now, click “Control+A” (for “All”) and change the font to one you don’t normally use, the spacing from double to single, and the size to book size (6”x9”, half-inch margins). Print it up (or, to save paper and costs, download the book-like version to your tablet or e-reader). Now read it in a completely different location, one where you never write, preferably outside of your home. That way, you can approach it with fresh eyes and a bit of distance, as a reader, rather than skimming through familiar words as the writer.

Using the 17 questions below to guide you, go through the whole manuscript for big-picture issues: plot, characterization, logistics, voice, pacing, readability, and flow. Keep in mind that every chapter needs conflict, and every page should have some tension, even if it’s just minor internal disagreement or questioning. Conflict and tension are what drive fiction forward. As you read it on paper, circle minor errors and typos that jump out at you and make notes in the margins, on the backs of the pages, and elsewhere, if needed. Then go back to the computer and type in your changes.

Now, before sending your manuscript to an editor, search out, online or among your acquaintances, three to six avid readers to give you some feedback. It’s best not to ask people close to you to do this “beta” reading as, besides the fact that they may not read or appreciate your genre, they probably won’t want to tell you what they really think, for fear of jeopardizing your relationship. Or they may be so critical, it actually will hurt your relationship. Your volunteer readers certainly don’t need to be writers, but they should be smart, discerning readers who enjoy and read your genre and are willing to give you honest feedback.

To avoid generic (and generally useless) responses like “It was good/interesting/okay,” it’s best to guide your readers with specific questions. Here’s a list to choose from. Ask your critique group or beta readers to print up this list, read all the questions in advance, and keep them close for reference when they’re reading your manuscript.

And of course, if you have already used these questions as a guideline during your initial revisions, the responses from your volunteer readers should be much more positive, or of a nature to make your story even stronger.

  1. Did the story pique your interest from the very beginning? If not, why not?
  2. Did you realize very early on whose story it is (who you’re supposed to be identifying with as the protagonist) and where and when it’s taking place? If not, why not?
  3. Can you relate to the main character? Do you feel her/his pain, worry, or excitement?
  4. Does the setting interest you, and do the descriptions seem vivid and real to you?
  5. Are there points at which your attention lags, where you feel less than eager to find out what’s going to happen next? Which chapters, scenes, pages?
  6. Are there any parts or details that confuse you? Or even frustrate or annoy you? Which parts, and why?
  7. Do you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, motivation or personalities, or other details?
  8. Are the characters believable? Are there any characters you think could be made more interesting, likeable, or threatening?
  9. Are you at times confused about who’s who in the characters? Are there too many characters to keep track of? Too few? Are any of the names or characters too similar?
  10. Is the dialogue ho-hum, even boring in parts? Does it need more tension, attitude, and zing? Do the speakers’ words sound natural, not stilted or overly correct?
  11. Does each character have their own distinct voice? If not, whose dialogue do you think sounds artificial or not like that person would speak?
  12. Is there too much description or exposition? Not enough? Maybe too much dialogue in parts?
  13. Is there enough conflict, tension, and intrigue throughout to keep your interest?
  14. Is the ending satisfying? Both unexpected and believable?
  15. Did you notice any obvious grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors? Maybe give a few examples.
  16. Is the writing too wordy in places, needing tightening up? Are there needless repetitions?
  17. Do you think the writing style suits the genre? If not, why not?

And if you have eager readers or other writers in your genre who are willing to go the extra mile for you, you could add some of the more specific questions below. These are also effective for critiquing a short story.

– Which scenes resonated with you and/or moved you emotionally?

– Which parts did you dislike or not like as much, and why?
– Which parts should be condensed or even deleted?
– Which parts should be elaborated on or brought more to life?
– Which characters did you really connect to?
– Which characters need more development or focus?

Once you’ve received feedback from all your beta readers, it’s time to consider their comments carefully. Ignore any you really don’t agree with, but if two or more people say the same thing, be sure to seriously consider that suggestion. Give yourself a few days to create a bit of emotional neutrality, then go through and revise your story, based on the comments you felt were insightful and helpful.

More Help From Jodie


Captivate Your Readers:  Are you looking for techniques to really bring your fiction to life for the readers, so they feel they’re right there, on the edge of their seats, struggling with the hero or heroine? Staying up late at night, worrying, glued to the pages?

This award-winning editor’s guide to writing compelling fiction provides specific advice, with examples, for captivating readers and immersing them in your story world.

It’s all about engaging the reader and providing a direct connection with the characters through deep point of view, showing instead of telling, avoiding author intrusions, and letting the characters tell the story.

Today’s readers want to put aside their cares and chores and lose themselves in an absorbing story. This book shows you how to provide the emotional involvement and immediacy readers crave in fiction.

You’ll find techniques for making sure your characters come to life and your readers feel directly connected to them, without the author’s hand appearing as an intermediary.

And like Jodie Renner’s other writing guides, which are designed for busy writers, the format of this one is reader-friendly, with text broken up by subheadings, examples, and lists.

Much more at

Want to hear from other top-notch editors?

Create a Strong Story by Rebecca Monterusso Story Grid Editor
Conquering the Blank Page by  Eric Anderson

Fictionary Logo

StoryTeller is creative editing software for fiction writers. Transform your story, not just your words. Successful stories depend on your ability to edit, improve, and revise your work. Only when you master story editing, can you master storytelling.

Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trial and tell powerful stories?