Oct 24 2008

Quiz: Is Your Manuscript Dead on Arrival?

This quiz will help you diagnose some common manuscript problems. If you’re not sure why your answer was right or wrong, please see our explanations either by waiting until the end of the quiz or hitting “previous question” during the quiz.

Is Your Novel Manuscript Dead on Arrival? » Create A Quiz

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150 responses so far

150 Responses to “Quiz: Is Your Manuscript Dead on Arrival?”

  1. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 14 Nov 2008 at 12:56 am

    On my count, I have only invented one word. That’s Yinyusi, Isaac’s species. That’s pretty obviously made up, but there are ones which I don’t count because they seem real, like Libra Electronics and “Kingdom of Giogani” trading cards. The first is a company that will be majorly involved in the second book, and the second is his friend’s favourite card game.

  2. B. Macon 14 Nov 2008 at 1:30 am

    That sounds very manageable. Just don’t use a book title that will stump prospective readers (The Tears of the Yinyusi, for example).

  3. Bretton 19 Nov 2008 at 6:36 am

    Remember the Katblack character you suggested I rename?

    What do you think of the name Backslash?

  4. B. Macon 19 Nov 2008 at 6:37 am

    That’s better, but I think that it will remind people of an unrelated punctuation mark, heh.

  5. Bretton 19 Nov 2008 at 8:10 am

    Ok. Maybe Backlash?

  6. B. Macon 19 Nov 2008 at 8:14 am

    I like it!

  7. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 22 Nov 2008 at 12:08 am

    You should do one like this to determine if any characters are homo superiors. That would be good for me, seeing as Isaac isn’t human.

  8. B. Macon 22 Nov 2008 at 7:38 am

    Hmm, a test for Homo Superiors. I’ll work on that.

    Until then, perhaps you would enjoy our new Mary Sue and Chosen One tests.

  9. B. Macon 22 Nov 2008 at 8:46 am

    OK, I’ve been having some trouble coding it. I’ll resolve the interactive problems later today, but I have the script completed. I think it’d be preferable if a race scored 5 or more on this. (Note that I’ve labeled things as “BAD” which are not necessarily problematic by themselves but could contribute to a problem depending on other factors).

    1. Is his species generally physically superior to humans? YES = BAD
    2. Is his species generally mentally superior to humans? YES = BAD
    3. Do members of this species generally find themselves morally superior to humans? YES = BAD
    4. Do you find this species generally morally superior to humans? YES = BAD
    5. Are humans significantly superior to this species in any physical, mental or moral way? YES = GOOD
    6. Is a member of this species generally born with superhuman powers, like magic or telepathy? YES = BAD
    7. Is the species immortal or extremely long-lived? YES = BAD
    8. Does his species look very similar to humans? (Legolas) YES = BAD
    9. Does his species look identical to humans? (Superman). YES = BAD… very bad, heh.
    10. If your character is a hybrid, like a half-dragon or a half-elf, does he have a far mix of the strengths and shortcomings of both species? (YES = GOOD)
    11. Are there many members of this species in this book or story? YES = GOOD

  10. Janeon 12 Jan 2009 at 7:26 am

    Hi,

    Came across this quiz after a bit of snooping around on your site (found you by a google search for writing tips, specifically cliches). You have some helpful and insightful articles, especially “Writing Authentic Male Characters”. Being a woman, writing the male pov has been a difficult task but the article helped me to understand what I’ve been doing wrong and how to better go about it. Anyway, I thought the above test sounded like fun. And it was. Even though I write Women’s Fiction, it gave me pit falls to avoid when revising my novel.

    I did find the scoring ambiguous at the end and felt the stars and % needed to be better defined. At first, I had assumed a higher score (more stars, higher %) indicated a better chance of my manuscript being d.o.a.(as a higher score is usually interpreted as more likely to occur). But after some thought, I figured out that a higher score indicated my manuscript had a lesser chance of being d.o.a. (high score=good, low score=bad). No need to burst my bubble if I’m wrong: )

    Thanks! I appreciate the tips! Keep up the good work!!!

  11. B. Macon 12 Jan 2009 at 8:00 am

    Hello, Jane! I think that our quiz-builder always assumes that a high score is better than a lower score. According to my records, you got 29 out of 35 answers right and we coded that as an excellent (least likely to be DOA).

    If you liked that writing quiz, please feel free to see our others here.

  12. Alice2on 21 Jan 2009 at 9:23 pm

    I think I accidentally chose the wrong answer at some point, because I know I answered way more than one incorrect.

    Some of them actually do apply to my work, but the ones I have in mind are important for both the progression of the story and the characterization. I’ll admit it’s slightly cheesy, but I’m working on it.

    I’m not really writing to sell, but I’m still aiming for quality. Do you think that my novel is *instantly* DOA if I answered yes to any of the plot-related ones?

  13. B. Macon 21 Jan 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Is your novel instantly DOA for one of these? Probably not, but a few are poisonous enough that they can really influence the first impression if they crop up early on.

    For example, if a novel confusingly switches POVs in the middle of an early chapter, I think it’s dead. Likewise, if the first three chapters are narrated by three separate characters, the reader will probably pull the plug shortly into chapter 3. Having a character study his own reflection is amateurish in the first few chapters, but could probably be overlooked later on. I’d be nervous about a great prophecy setup, but that gets published frequently.

    Which plot elements were you thinking about?

  14. MaTTHEW TEETSon 17 Feb 2009 at 5:27 pm

    That was pretty good. Though haven’t quite finished set up on my story. I haven’t even completed the alchemical change in my main character. Right now his powers are being held by the twins sons of friends and will soon be transferred to an extended family member after the net transports him to the university hospital a fatigued and dehydrated lump.

  15. MaTTHEW TEETSon 17 Feb 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Also I am looking for Ideas for my super villain based on Osama Bin Laden. First thing I need is a great name for the villain whose powers will be taken away and stored in containment I Cyber Druid’s lair.

  16. Ericon 27 Mar 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Well done. A brilliant tutorial masquerading as a test. Wonderful humor. Thank you!

  17. Gurion Omegaon 01 Apr 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Drats!

    Didn’t do too well. But I still think I’m right on SOME points.

    I agree strongly on this: making that the MC doesn’t know (or isn’t aware) that his/her parents aren’t really theirs or that a character is secretly there half (or full)
    sibling CAN tend to get a little farty. That is the last time I’ll use the term ‘farty’.

  18. Davidon 01 Apr 2009 at 6:03 pm

    i got 30 out of 35 and an exalent

    thats fantastice lol btw is it so bad for me to have a princess as a main chrater?

  19. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 02 Apr 2009 at 6:17 am

    I answered question 20 as “no” because although Isaac and Tristram’s lineage is unclear, I can say that they are NOT royal, upper class or otherwise descended from powerful people. Their backstory will eventually be revealed, but their parents are far from any degree of nobility.

    I invent the brand names and I’m going to leave Kamari and Isaac’s relationship unsolved until book three.

    The only example of a cryptic mentor that I have ever liked is Auron in Final Fantasy X. I like that he isn’t just Tidus’ mentor, but also Yuna’s to a degree.

    He reveals little, but when he does it’s WHAM! HOLY CRAP! He’s not annoying. He’s awesome. 😉

    “Now! This is it! Now is the time to choose! Die and be free of pain, or live and fight your sorrow! Now is the time to shape your stories! Your fate is in your hands!” ‘Nuff said.

    (Runs off to play FFX)

  20. C. S. Marloweon 02 Apr 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Hmm. The character doesn’t know who her real parents were (adopted) but it’s not an important point to the story. It probably won’t even get mentioned, because this is *years* after her birth and childhood and all that jazz. Didn’t reveal the name because it just didn’t come up… I wasn’t trying to surprise the reader, I just couldn’t think of a good way to work it in, so I had someone ask later on.
    I saw the question about ‘why do they fall in love with that person’ and… er… went a bit crazy. Did a brainstorm on why and how exactly they come to love each other and why it would be that person rather than anyone else. Hate how characters fall in love because it’s ‘destined.’ (translation: Author: I couldn’t think of a good reason.)
    I used one made up word which appears a few chapters into the book to refer to a prison. ‘Eloth.’ We have other names for it previously, and the name is explained in the narrative.
    One conversation in my book reads like a transcript, but in the middle of brutal editing right now, so that will be taken out, have its mouth scrubbed with soap and such and made better.
    I… think that’s about it. Anything to worry about?

  21. Ragged Boyon 13 Apr 2009 at 9:27 am

    I read a book over the weekend, The Transall Saga, and it broke a rule. Oddly, I found it acceptable. The rule was the character describes themself in a reflection. The main character, Mark, does this three time throughout the story. But he’s not decribing things like his hair color or eye color, he talks about how his body changes. From chunky to bone-skin to muscular. I found this acceptable because the story was partially about character development.

    Is this acceptable?

  22. Wingson 28 Apr 2009 at 11:08 am

    Yay!

    How to Save the World got a 91.43.

    – Wings

  23. Tomon 03 May 2009 at 4:38 am

    Hey B. Mac, have you ever seen this:

    http://dragonwritingprompts.blogspot.com/2006/11/fantasy-novelists-exam.html

    It could be useful for some people here. Although I wouldn’t go as far as saying “answering “yes” to any one question results in failure and means that the prospective novel should be abandoned at once” it’s a useful way to avoid cliches.

  24. Holliequon 03 May 2009 at 12:17 pm

    I really hope #35 doesn’t mean I have to abandon my novel, because I actually wrote a few sentences yesterday. I might be recovering from my block, finally.

  25. B. Macon 03 May 2009 at 12:23 pm

    “I might be recovering from my block, finally.” Then keep moving forward with the story as is. I’d recommend using tests and stuff only after you’ve completed your first draft of the manuscript. If you use tests beforehand, it might make it harder for you to get your thoughts onto the page.

    Also, #35– “my hero doesn’t know who his parents are at the start of the story”– is a bit cliche but still well within the bounds of publishability.

  26. Holliequon 03 May 2009 at 5:05 pm

    #35 is “Does your novel contain characters transported from the real world to a fantasy realm?” I was referring to the link Tom posted above.

    Thank you for the encouragement. 🙂

  27. B. Macon 03 May 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Oof. Transporting characters from the real world to a fantasy realm is a bit of a tough sell, particularly for older readers. That said, I think it turned out pretty well in the context of your story. When you write your proposal, I think that it will be up to you to explain why modern audiences are ready for this type of book. (“Here’s a few examples where similar book concepts sold well in the past decade, and here’s a few reasons my book is better than them”).

    I do not agree with David Parker’s assessment that the concept is instantly dead on arrival in the publisher’s officer. In fact, the only reason it is a cliche is because many stories have tried it and some have gotten published. There are only a few cliches that are so poisonously painful that I would instantly reject them. Notice that execution plays a huge role here.

    –A bad prologue is even more dangerous than a bad first chapter. By using a prologue, you set a higher bar for yourself because we’re more removed from the story (and particularly the main character).
    –Gods in disguise. I’m skeptical that there’s any way for a modern author to make this work, but it did work in Greek mythology.
    –Obviously drawing on a role-playing game or video game for inspiration is a major problem. I would seriously consider dropping any manuscript that used any of the following: mana, hit points, or plate mail.
    –A first-person POV that looks at his reflection in the first few chapters. Ick. This is a truly artless way for the POV to describe his appearance to the audience because it usually stalls the story. If this happens 5-10 chapters in, though, I think he might be talented enough that I could consider looking past this mistake.
    –Cryptic plots are a big turn-off to me. When a mentor character tries to hide the plot from the main character, it usually feels like the author is so unconfident about the quality of his plot that he needs to hide it from me. Why would you hide a genius plot? For example, if you were dealing with a plot as awesome as City of Thieves or Rules of Engagement, the plot is a major selling point. (COT: two prisoners in the Siege of Leningrad are spared from a painful death sentence if they can find two dozen eggs for a wedding cake. ROE: two elderly aunts looking for love confuse a book about military strategy for a dating-guide. Hijinks ensue!).

    When David Parker says that any LOTR rip-off can’t get published, I kind of wonder if he’s ever seen what makes the fantasy shelf. At least half of published fantasy titles bear some resemblance to LOTR, and I’d say that maybe a quarter are uncomfortably close. But readers like them anyway. Notice that Eragon became a best-seller and it wasn’t just because the author had teen sympathy.

  28. Davidon 03 May 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Do you think Lord of the Rings got any inspiration from any other fantasy novels?

  29. B. Macon 03 May 2009 at 9:28 pm

    I think Tolkien drew heavily on Icelandic myth and (to some extent) Arthurian legends.

  30. Sariahon 11 May 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Hey now. #11. I used “I” and counted that as a pronoun. You didn’t. I demand more points on that quiz.

    I discovered this website yesterday, and I’m planning on having the entire thing read by the end of the week. Excellent site! Thanks!

  31. B. Macon 11 May 2009 at 9:11 pm

    “I’m planning on having the entire thing read by the end of the week.” Best of luck! I’m glad to have you on board. That said, it might be a hectic week. We have about 1070 posts.

  32. Sariahon 12 May 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Thanks, but I won’t need luck. My last final is tomorrow. I’ll have oodles of time. 🙂

  33. HUsheron 25 Jun 2009 at 2:37 pm

    … WHUT?
    I took this test for a laugh with one of my first Mary Sue characters and got ‘excellent.’ O_O I have no idea how that happened. It’s *not* because she was actually a good character- she was awful. Prophesied chosen one with a pretty trinket who fights evil and falls in love with a guy for no better reason than the fact that I wanted a romance. Oh- yeah. And her beginning was more Anakin Skywalker than Anakin Skywalker. (Innocent farmgirl anyone?)
    (wonders how on earth she managed to get that score)

  34. Jacobon 25 Jun 2009 at 2:55 pm

    It’s because if the test graded prospective writers like a real publisher would, the test would discourage them. In the publishing industry, the bottom 99% of submissions get rejected. Yes, your story would have been rejected. Would a more honest test have helped you?

    I find that prospective writers do best when we set up intermediate and attainable goals. If someone’s struggling at 50%, 80% is probably attainable. Let’s get to 80% before we mention that a really serious author has to go above and beyond that.

  35. Scribblaron 18 Jul 2009 at 3:56 am

    Ha.

    I’m currently revising a piece that should be a total failure… there’s a weird mentor, prophecies, designated love interests, and more.

    I think it gels.

  36. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 18 Jul 2009 at 7:00 am

    “By the end of the third page, do we know the main character’s name?”

    (Shudder) I wrote a really bad piece when I was little where I couldn’t think of a good name for the MC, so she became known as “The Girl” or “Oi, you”. Haha.

    There are few places where not knowing a character’s name isn’t annoying.

    (You guys are gonna hate me for this) The Doctor in Doctor Who’s name has not been revealed, even though it has had 753 episodes, tons of specials, books and spinoffs. Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who/Torchwood also uses a pseudonym, and his real name (as of season two, I haven’t seen Children of Earth yet) has not been revealed. I don’t find it annoying at all, and if their names are ever revealed I will probably fall out of my chair. Laugh if you want, I’m a fangirl and I know it. Haha.

  37. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 18 Jul 2009 at 7:35 am

    Oh, and it also works for L, Watari, Near and Mello of Death Note. Their true names are major plot points, as Light is unable to kill them without them.

  38. Scribblaron 18 Jul 2009 at 11:40 am

    Are you following me?

  39. Tomon 18 Jul 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Jack’s real name is never revealed, and it looks like it never will be.

    As for the Doctor, he’s a good example of someone who doesn’t NEED a real name. Remember that one where he met that woman who had met him but he hadn’t met yet? (Good old time travel show :P) She knew his real name, so he has one, but the production team said if his real name is ever revealed it’ll lose all of the magic and mystery behind it. That means they’ll probably never reveal his true name.

    Another example of the real name being a plot point is in YuGiOh. The Pharaoh’s real name isn’t revealed until the last episode, and an entire story arc revolves around finding it, since he doesn’t know his real name and he can’t enter the afterlife without it.

    (spoiler) It’s Atem. (/spoiler)

  40. B. Macon 20 Jul 2009 at 9:30 am

    Ok. I’m cutting and pasting the last few comments to the open forum.

  41. CarsonArtiston 29 Jul 2009 at 6:08 pm

    I just took the quiz with an 89%- Some of the things I got “wrong” may be successful elements but some of the questions were rather nebulous. Im anxious to get a review thread started so I can post up my work so far…..oh, BTW – Im new!

    Hi! 🙂

  42. A1Writeron 22 Nov 2009 at 3:13 pm

    This seems to be very well geared for genre writers. If I ever taught an MFA workshop this would be helpful. However, imagine telling Tolstoy to cut the characters or Virginia Woolf to do chapter breaks between POV shifts. Although, I’m sure in the current literary climate, Woolf would be published by some prestigious small press, but Tolstoy I think would have a shot at the big time.

  43. A1Writeron 22 Nov 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Actually, Michael Grant’s YA series, Gone, which is about teens trapped in a town manifesting super powers, handles multiple POVs quite well. Also, he write action quite well.

  44. B. Macon 22 Nov 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I think Tom Clancy has recently used multiple POVs within a particular chapter, but I don’t remember that coming up in any of his earlier works. Publishers will give you a lot of leeway once you have a history of success.

    However, if you’re an unpublished author going through the slush-pile meatgrinder, you will be judged with a lot of crude heuristics because the publishers’ assistants have to weed through thousands of manuscripts. Hopefully the PAs and editors will smile upon a really well-executed work that pulls off something difficult (like multiple POVs within a chapter)! However, often they won’t. It’s just another thing that can get the work rejected… I wouldn’t recommend risking it on your first manuscript. It might be safer to write it conventionally (ie a bit more structured like most of the works currently getting published for mass-market audiences) and then later ask the editor if he’d be okay with a few more exotic elements later.

    It’s easier to get a publisher to sign off on creative risks when you’re a well-established author.

  45. Gwenon 29 Nov 2009 at 4:11 pm

    This was a very difficult test for me to take. I got an 83 without cheating which I really, really wanted to do.

    Like, my main character has two mentors. One is preparing him for a destined struggle, but that struggle is manufactured and really only benefits the mentor who manufactured it in the first place. Winning *that* struggle is not what makes him heroic.

    The other mentor takes on the first half of the hero’s education and is a father figure. Once he is no longer in the position of teacher, he doesn’t want to be the hero’s father figure anymore. It becomes a real point of contention in their ensuing relationship.

    The hero knows who his mother is but not who his father is. It never becomes anything. His mother is a drug addicted prostitute. It never ends up as a reveal. I try to make that obvious through a conversation about not knowing who his father is. The friend thinks it’s cool because, with his mother being a prostitute, his father could be anybody, really.

    Hero says he doesn’t care one whit who his father was, even if he were the most powerful man in the world. His friend asks him, basically, what if it turned out that, say, X (the most likely culprit of a darth vader reveal) has been your father all along? He responds, “I still wouldn’t care. It wouldn’t change a thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if he kept something like that a secret but I still wouldn’t care. What could that possibly change about anything?”

  46. B. Macon 29 Nov 2009 at 5:29 pm

    So what does make him heroic?

  47. PaintedSainton 29 Nov 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Gwen:

    Like the Mary Sue Litmus test, you have to realize that these are hints of possibility that the novel is poorly-written, nothing in the test indicates the traits are 100% proof that the novel will be terrible. It’s just that inexperienced writers will have a harder time writing a decent novel with these plot devices.

    For example, in a seperate story I used the test on, I answered “Yes” to the question about if there is a cryptic character. Well, I do have a character that withholds information, he’s a salesman. He’s not going to say anything about faulty wiring in the android children he’s selling, not when families are investing thousands of dollars in these artificial children. He’s not being cryptic to be cool and mysterious, he’s doing it or else his product won’t sell.

  48. B. Macon 29 Nov 2009 at 8:50 pm

    Yeah, I think that the problem with crypticism is when a character (often a mentor) withholds information for no reason other than to be dramatic. Unless there’s a good reason to withhold the truth from the protagonist, leaving your student in the dark is just stupid.

    However, if there is a good reason for withholding the information, then it’ll probably work out as long as the reader has enough information to process the story. For example, Obi Wan Kenobi may have withheld the truth about Darth Vader being Luke’s father to decrease the chance that Luke would let himself be turned to the dark side. (Or, more cynically, OBK may have been hoping that Luke would kill Vader).

  49. Gwenon 30 Nov 2009 at 12:15 am

    B. Mac,

    The way he wins the ‘destined’ struggle is actually pretty despicable. Then, he figures out what the whole point of it all was. He figures out why he was taken off the streets as a child and trained to fight. He was made into a martial arts expert in a sci fi world of super advanced weaponry. The guy practically sends him to the Iraq war with a musket. There’s a reason for it. It’s how he responds to that that makes him heroic.

    PaintedSaint,

    I did sort of get that. But I still wanted an A. I’m that kind of idiot.

  50. ProfessorPrinceon 22 Jan 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Hey, thank you so much for existing! This test is useful for reviewing some of the things that I’ve gone through with my creative writing courses, and fixing some terrible mistakes. One, or maybe two I can’t remember, of the questions that I answered – incorrectly – made me realise how carefully I have to tread while using cliche or terrible ideas. I have to go through my story more often to pick out misplaced details, or lack thereof. Reading many of your posts on this awesome site is going to help me revise my in-class story. Thanks again!

    Paul, AKA Professor.

  51. B. Macon 23 Jan 2010 at 7:59 am

    I’m glad to hear that I helped. Good luck!

  52. Jack Balfouron 22 Apr 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Man, Dune is a really awful book according to this quiz.

  53. B. Macon 22 Apr 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Yeah, Jack. 😉

  54. relative newbieon 05 Jul 2010 at 2:04 am

    Two questions.

    Does an Irish name (O’Connor, O’Toole etc) count for apostrophes?
    Does an acknowledged fostering/adoption where biologic parents aren’t interested in any contact count for real parents?

    It’s shown to have left him messed up, parental rejection and childhood bullying for being the black son of white parents.

  55. Queeequegon 11 Jul 2010 at 11:16 am

    @ relative newbie

    With regards to your question about Irish names, that doesn’t count as apostrophes in my mind. I think apostrophes in a name means something unnecessary. With an Irish name, that’s kind of different, right?

    I think adoptive parents, if adoption is acknowledged, can definitely count as being real parents, because in real life they would act like ordinary parents. Also, sometimes not knowing who the character’s parents are can be useful; for example, having an orphan as a main protagonist is important for how their character has developed. But in the main, having unknown parents or biological parents being revealed later on in a novel is very cliched and old, unless the main theme of the novel is the adopted child searching for his/her parents.

  56. B. Macon 11 Jul 2010 at 5:46 pm

    I think real names with apostrophes are okay. However, one minor suggestion… I would recommend against using the surname as a possessive. For example, “John Smith’s cat” is okay, but “John O’Rourke’s cat” looks a bit funky even though it is grammatically correct. Fortunately, there are usually many alternatives, such as “John’s cat,” or “his cat” or whatever.

    As for the character not knowing his biological parents, 1) I think it’s fine as long as he knows his adopted parents aren’t his birth parents and 2) it’s much more of a cliche in fantasy and maybe a bit in sci-fi than in fiction set in the real world. So I’m guessing you’re fine.

  57. Queeequegon 12 Jul 2010 at 12:18 pm

    @ B. Mac

    I think in most circumstances (especially, seeing Star Wars and Superman, in comics and sci-fi/fantasy) the “finding one’s parents” thing is over-used and, even if it had not been so frequently repeated and malused, would have gotten tired quickly anyway. I’d avoid it, full stop.

  58. Mabelon 08 Aug 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Fark! I missed some.

    I just found this. It was rather fun. A lot of the questions seemed to apply to fantasy novels, so with a crime story, it was kind of hard to answer some of them. I do have a handsome anti-hero, but the girl falls for him because she’s Stockholming, so it’s not just because he’s hawt. I did a lot of research to make it realistic!!!!!

  59. B. Macon 08 Aug 2010 at 6:03 pm

    I find the Stockholm Syndrome angle very interesting. That’s a much better reason for a romance than (just) the love interest being the most attractive person in the book.

  60. JPon 22 Aug 2010 at 2:48 pm

    B. Mac you mentioned Eragon…That series fails this so hard its not even funny…

  61. Jimmyon 14 Mar 2011 at 5:06 am

    I’m a starting writer who is writing about a struggle of a 13-year-old boy with a bright future ahead of him, being a well-raised kid who is loved by his parents. But in the span of 24 hours, he will lose everything.

    My story is basically about his long and difficult struggle towards self-redemption and his search for answers to his problems and about why that 24-hour loss of everything happened to him. It’s not exactly a fantasy story but it is more about the intertwining of his personal dramas (love, friends, etc.) and society’s dramas (poverty, abuse, etc.) that he will have to deal with simultaneously after getting kicked out of school, losing his home, his mother, his older brother, and his father’s sanity all in one day. In the course of the story, he will learn more than just the ways of the poor and he also will become a better person as he matures in this journey in his life.

    Now to the point of this comment…
    I need advice though on this part of my story where he checks out his reflection in the bathroom mirror and remembers that his pleasing appearance is a gift to him from his parents because his parents worked hard to save up for a plastic surgery procedure he underwent when he was 12. He was born horribly deformed. I think it’s a plot device because this is a part when he reflects on what a shame he has been to his parents and how sorry he feels for his parents once they realize that he just got himself in trouble in school again. Do you think I should cut it out?

  62. B. Macon 14 Mar 2011 at 5:59 pm

    “I’m… writing about a struggle of a 13-year-old boy with a bright future ahead of him, being a well-raised kid who is loved by his parents. But in the span of 24 hours, he will lose everything. My story is basically about his long and difficult struggle towards self-redemption…” I like the element that it goes downhill so quickly for him, but what’s a 13 year old doing that he’d really need to struggle to redeem himself for? (Unless he, say, kills his mother and older brother).

    “It’s not exactly a fantasy story but it is more about the intertwining of his personal dramas…” If it’s written for young adults, I’d recommend submitting it as a young adult drama. I wouldn’t recommend submitting it as a fantasy unless there’s something distinctly fantastic going on (such as magic, elves, djinns, dragons, djinn-riding elven ninjas fighting mermaids, magical realism, etc).

    In this case, I like the idea of him checking himself out in his mirror. I think it has a lot more dramatic potential than most characters that use a mirror just to show us what they look like. I think the symbolism may also play into the guilt-and-reform elements of the plot very smoothly.

  63. Alishon 14 Apr 2011 at 3:05 pm

    I answered that my characters don’t know who their real parents are at the beginning of the book. I realize that this is cliche in most situations, but in mine, the characters have no parents. They were synthesized from cloned human DNA and then altered. Is this still cliche? Should I change it?

  64. B. Macon 14 Apr 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Alish, I think it would probably be cliche and would put pressure on your writing to distinguish itself in other ways. However, I don’t think it’s an insurmountable obstacle.

  65. EvilpixieAon 18 May 2011 at 7:41 pm

    I couldn’t help myself, I answered the questions as if I were the author of ‘twilight’… yes, yes, I know. Weirdly shallow, but it bugs me how… sloppy the writing style of that book really is. And how many blatant mistakes like these it makes! It got a 51%…

  66. Silvercaton 19 May 2011 at 12:11 pm

    This is so pedantic, but Aslan isn’t a made up word. It’s, I think, Arabic for Lion. Throwing in random foreign words isn’t much better though, although for names I don’t think it’s as big of a deal.

  67. Castilleon 09 Jun 2011 at 10:21 pm

    I’ve decided to stop work on my novel “As legends walk”. It just proved too hard for me to give life to characters when I haven’t even finished the first novel yet. So I may just return to the first novel or do something standalone.

    I know when my manuscript is dead on arrival. The first one I didn’t finish is looking more and more like the one I should really be trying to concentrate on.

    I’ve learned my lesson, no going off for sequels unless I’ve already finished the first novel.

    Still…

  68. FotVon 09 Jun 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Does your story have any Mary Sues? (A Mary Sue is a superpowered and idealized version of the author. One warning sign is that your main character goes through the book without doing anything you intend the audience to disapprove of. ***Another warning sign is that the character tends to get everything right on her first try).*** Biggest sign. And not in my story Isn’t an important part of the story supposed to where the characters messup and now have to start from scratch?

  69. FotV/Annaon 10 Jun 2011 at 12:06 am

    The problem I have with this whole “chosen one” thing is it’s normally affirmation they’ll kick everyone’s butt and possibly be inhumanely perfect and posess extraordinary powers and talents.

    I have a couple “chosen one’s” (different books of course) but they’re not traditional.

    Aian is the chosen wielder of the Sunstone (a magical artifact that can only be wielded elementally light people, which is considerably less than 1% the population. Most people never learn magic, or if they do just defensive spells. Light is powerful because it augments your abilitied to cast other sorts of magic. People have a dominant magic they can cast and defend, if any at all, and one they’re less talented at/ more vulnernerable against. Then there’s the other two elements that are in between. Having light or dark powers makes all of your 4 elemental magics as good as your best. You’re born one of the four natural elements, or light a cosmic element. The other Cosmic elements are Darkness and Aether. You can become a Dark sorcerer later if that’s the path you choose. People that pursue it are rarely inherently bad, they may just think they’re disciplined enough to keep it in control and see no other way to fix things. Nothing bad will happen if I do it once. Ok, I kind of need it this second time too…

    Aether is inherent in all of us- it is the substance of our soul (beyond the Natural Element or light) and pretty much any magic that can’t be accomplished by the other six is either accomplished with aether or not at all. I don’t feel like getting into it right now…

    This by no means makes up for not studying and honing your craft as any experienced Sorcerer is likely to defeat a novice even if all five are at his best. With the sunstone his chances improve but really its practice. Though they do have a better aptitude for magic and learn it faster so catching up won’t be impossible.

    Point is, he’s sort of chosen for greatness by a glowing rock and then the community at large (he’s just a poor miner who went out to the fair to see his cousin Delyth (actual Welsh name, not made up)) but he isn’t the only one who would qualify so it’s not “The One”. And being the one wielder of the Sunstone means King Gwythyr will have all his men out looking for him as will the Rebellion’s leader the king’s jealous younger brother Heddwyn who by the way got him started on black magic and really just wants to control the sunstones keeper long enough to get the throne and then dispose of him.

    Sorry, I haven’t even mentioned this story’s existance in years and now its mad at me.

  70. Castilleon 10 Jun 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I just permanently shelved that story because the characters didn’t make sense to me. I let side characters take up too much of the story, and found that some were just getting too whiny. Also, I wasn’t able to consistently keep their ‘character’ constant or at least on a reasonable progression through the pace of the story.

  71. noneon 16 Oct 2011 at 10:28 pm

    1) Multiple point-of-view characters: Yes. It’s epic/heroic fantasy! Multiple-POV is expected. I was proud of myself for cutting it down to four major POV characters, plus a few others for a handful of necessary scenes where none of the primary four are present, or where another perspective provides useful information to the reader. One of the four (the first) is the clear MC.

    2) Change POV mid-chapter: Yes, but not mid-scene.

    14) One character has an apostrophe, yes. It’s to show that the syllable-break isn’t in the place a native English speaker would put it. (The other names don’t require an apostrophe in order to be spelled for an English speaker to read phonetically).

    20) Nothing unclear (other than in a mundane way), “glorious”, or “mysterious”. But what’s wrong with including a royal character or two? They are going to be in a position to be making a lot of important decisions (with both intended and unintended consequences). It’s not about “lineage”, it’s about “who’s going to be present at the interesting parts of the story?” and “who has the interesting inner and outer conflicts going on?”

    23) The first two I did, but I don’t see anything wrong with it.
    1) Why do the villains need to be defeated at the end of the first book? So no, those story threads aren’t resolved yet!
    2) They just met! There isn’t a “romance” to resolve yet!
    3) The main story threads wrap up (it’s a complete book with a beginning, middle, and end, with several lives and interpersonal relationships changed substantially, and resolution to the conflicts that were given the most attention in the book. The three surviving major-POV characters have undergone noticeable change. The fourth had a life-changing plot-arc as well; unfortunately, it was fatal). Background threads are just getting started, however.

    28) More than that *present*, or more than that being *focused on*? Yes, there are fights with (well) more than four people participating, but since we’re limited to what the current POV character (who’s generally rather pre-occupied, being in the middle of a life-and-death fight and all) is noticing. I don’t see a problem with this.

    34) Well, it depends on how you define “Barbarian”. Technically, a barbarian is someone who doesn’t speak ancient Greek. (I know, I know, no one likes a smart-ass). There’s no one who would describe themselves as a “ferocious barbarian”, but (if we ignore the Greek meaning) there are characters who might make that accusation against other characters. There’s no stand-in for Conan, however — which is what I think this question was actually asking, so I went ahead and answered “none of the above”.

    Got 83 out of 100 😀

  72. Blonde Emoon 30 Dec 2011 at 1:22 am

    You may want to make the answers less obvious. Most all of the correct answers are “No.”

  73. B. McKenzieon 30 Dec 2011 at 3:33 am

    Thanks for your advice. I found it very hard to write questions about things likely to kill a manuscript without making the best answer obvious. That said, on some of these, I could rewrite the questions to be less obviously slanted. For example, “Does the narrator or POV character hide critical information from readers just to ‘surprise’ us?” could be written as “Does the narrator or POV character hide critical information from readers mainly to surprise them?” (At some point, I’ll make a big change, but I try not to do relatively minor ones because ProProfs wipes out the answer results every time the test changes).

    PS: Because I was only allowed to have one correct answer for each question, I had to lump in “not applicable” with the correct answer every time it came up.

  74. lolon 09 Feb 2012 at 5:50 pm

    This quiz is laughably idiotic and misguided, and even crashed at the second last question.

  75. B. McKenzieon 09 Feb 2012 at 10:13 pm

    I’m not a huge fan of interactive content–something is almost certainly lost when switching from a writing article to a multiple choice test that only allows for right/wrong answers*. I’m sorry it took you 34 questions to figure that out?

    *For example, a pre-written test can’t take into consideration how well an idea is executed.

  76. Robbon 20 Apr 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Thanks for putting this ready-reckoner style test together. As writers, we can read through endless articles and ponder where we may be going off track. A quick tool like this can throw up some interesting points to consider. As you’ve pointed out in other comments, it isn’t comprehensive or infallible, but it’s a good start, in conjunction with the other articles. Thanks again… I have a 110,000 word manuscript which needs working on and this website has helped with a few good pointers on RE-writing…

    I’ve had a couple of suggestions from an independent press in the US, in terms of characters and detail (i.e. too much of both, but they quite liked it overall) so a site like this is very useful.

    Thanks again B.

  77. B. McKenzieon 20 Apr 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Thanks, Robb. If you’d like more individualized feedback, please feel free to send a copy to superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com.

  78. V Maryon 06 Jun 2012 at 7:20 pm

    So….IS my manuscript dead on arrival? I can’t tell.

  79. KKon 27 Jun 2012 at 10:48 am

    My MC knows that she’s adopted; it isn’t a surprise, but she does not know who her biological parents are, as she was adopted from Hungary when she was in her first year of life. She never definitively find out who her parents are. Is this DOA qualified?

  80. Shadow Forceon 05 Jul 2012 at 5:46 am

    So if the hero is even remotely related to the villian (I’m talking father and daughter), we have instant rejection? Or if a character doesn’t truly ‘know’ (meaning she has never met) her parent?

  81. Hyakuyanon 29 Jul 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I took this quiz and got 82%…does that mean my manuscript is okay?

  82. Anonymouson 08 Aug 2012 at 4:36 pm

    The only word I’ve made up is a substitute for marriage… it’s an Echora because it means everlasting union in the native tongue but I don’t subject the reader to a dictionary definition of things. Also I have a lot of perspectives because it’s like a collection of bedtime stories told to kids and different people know different things… should I rethink this because I try to vary the writing style slightly for each person…

  83. Rachelon 09 Aug 2012 at 9:38 pm

    My MC doesn’t know her real parents because technically she doesn’t have any. She was a lab experiment, and while her ‘mom’ that raised her did give birth to her, the egg was implanted in her after being mutated genetically. Sooo…does this count as not knowing the MC’s parents?

  84. B. McKenzieon 09 Aug 2012 at 9:45 pm

    “Does this count as not knowing the MC’s parents?” I’ll let you decide, but I’d lean towards no (she does know her parents). In general, I’d recommend disregarding any questions that just don’t apply to your work for whatever reason.

  85. Bridieon 13 Oct 2012 at 1:25 pm

    This was so much fun! It actually inspired me to write. Beginning story now, and the first sentence will definitely have a pronoun. What can I say; some rules are just made to be “rejected”. 🙂

  86. B. McKenzieon 13 Oct 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Good luck, Bridie.

  87. Agnion 17 Oct 2012 at 7:08 pm

    @B. Mac.

    In an article (I could not find which one), you told us to give the main character urgent goals. Now, in my novel I am showing in the first chapter that the hero is suffering from severe depression due to nightmares related to his horrible childhood. He desperately looks for ways to overcome it. Does it count as urgent goal?

  88. B. Macon 17 Oct 2012 at 7:29 pm

    I did a Google search for Superhero Nation urgent goals and this article was the top result.

    Yes, I would say that overcoming severe internal obstacles would count as an urgent goal, particularly if his internal problems create external problems (e.g. his mental situation has a significant impact on his school/work and/or key relationships and/or something he’s trying to accomplish).

  89. Agnion 17 Oct 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Another question. Because of depression, he becomes serious, introvert ane not fun loving. I want to make the character a bit dark and complex. Will the readers or publishers like such character?

  90. Dr. Vo Spaderon 25 Oct 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Here’s hoping this post goes through!

    I have a friend who is going to start a new story using the ‘come with us, we will help you learn to use your powers’ theme. She has yet to decide on if the characters will be adolescents or adults though, and is looking for advice on which is most workable.

    The biggest concern with the adolescents are that it could seem somewhat cliche/overused. With the adults: what adult would drop everything in their lives to move off to another place into the unknown with a complete stranger? Would the confusion/stress/curiousity angle handle that?

  91. B. McKenzieon 25 Oct 2012 at 10:00 pm

    “Another question. Because of depression, he becomes serious, introverted and not fun loving. I want to make the character a bit dark and complex. Will the readers or publishers like such character?” Possibly–I think it depends on execution. It certainly seems to have worked out pretty well for Batman, although Batman has a brusque charm. My main recommendation there would be to avoid (as much as possible) anything which would make him a less interesting character. For example, Sentry/Void experienced depression in a very anti-interesting way that left most readers praying for a more effective superhero.



    “I have a friend who is going to start a new story using the ‘come with us, we will help you learn to use your powers’ theme. She has yet to decide on if the characters will be adolescents or adults though, and is looking for advice on which is most workable.” Especially if she’s doing adolescents, I’d REALLY recommend executing the premise in a fresh way. For example, maybe instead of another stand-in for Xavier or the Green Lantern selection process, maybe it’s closer to a shady talent scout looking to cash in off a promising athletic prospect.

    “With the adults: what adult would drop everything in their lives to move off to another place into the unknown with a complete stranger? Would the confusion/stress/curiousity angle handle that?” I think there are a lot of possibilities depending on the nature of the plot and the themes of the book. For example, if mutants are heavily discriminated against (a la X-Men), then a new mutant would have reason to leave (assuming he’d be fired by his company and disowned by his family and/or was so nervous about his powers or security situation that he WANTED to leave for the safety of those he/she cared about). Another possibility is that the situation hinges on a relationship (e.g. one mutant leaving regular society to follow a lover that is also a mutant). Another possibility is that the recruiter is very skilled at manipulation (e.g. taking advantages of various emotional levers to convince mutants to come along).

  92. Android 21 3/7on 02 Nov 2012 at 4:22 am

    This probably sounds like a weak excuse, but many of these questions are difficult to apply when my intention isn’t a novel, but a comic book.

    “By the end of page three, do we know what the main character’s name is?”
    “Do your fight scenes ever last for more than 5 pages at a time?”
    A lot more can happen in a single page of text than in a single page of images. If you’re talking about the script written before it’s put into images, then the answer is yes, but that can still translate to a lot of pages in comic form.

    “Do the dialogues in your story read like transcripts?”
    …Still in the planning stage to determine pacing and layout, so yes, they’re scripts…

  93. B. McKenzieon 02 Nov 2012 at 10:58 am

    “Many of these questions are difficult to apply when my intention isn’t a novel, but a comic book.” Good catch. The title of the quiz is “Is Your Novel Manuscript Dead on Arrival” because some of the questions don’t apply all that well to comics. For example, I think it’d be MUCH easier for a comic to avoid naming the protagonist early on because you can show the character acting/speaking without referring to him by name. In contrast, with a novel, most sentences involving the character will have to refer to the character as something.

  94. FaceOffon 01 Dec 2012 at 4:29 am

    I’ve never liked the opposition to names with apostrophies. It feels rather anglo-centric, apostrophes are very common in many ethnic names, and my character has a real name but it counts as wrong. I prfer to be asked if my character has “a made-up name with punctuation” than “a name with punctuation”

  95. B. McKenzieon 01 Dec 2012 at 12:49 pm

    If you think the name won’t look odd enough to distract readers, go for it. For example, O’Brien and O’Connor are among the 500 most popular surnames in the United States. However, depending on your target audience, apostrophes in names might generally look very strange to your readers. Except for Irish names, I’ve never seen them in any European or Asian names before. I’ve seen them used in some indigenous names in Central/South America (e.g. Quechua and Aymara), but I suspect they’d still look distracting to most native Spanish-speakers.

    Personally, if I were making a name for an Irish or Quechua character, I’d probably pick one which didn’t have an apostrophe even though some Irish and Quechua names do.



    On a somewhat related level, I would generally recommend picking contextually appropriate names which are also easy for the target audience to pronounce. For example, for a ethnically Japanese character in a work aimed at English speakers, I’d strongly recommend a family name like Sasaki, Rin, Okada, or Mori over Oono, Ooshima, Nii, or Samurakami. Even though all of these family names would be plausible for an ethnically Japanese character (i.e. they’re all among the 250 most common family names in Japan), names which would be easier for most of your readers to pronounce and remember would generally be preferable.

  96. acharaon 01 Dec 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Adding to that, you can remove the O from Irish surnames very easily, as the O is a suffix meaning ‘son of’. So instead of Patrick O’Connor, you could easily have Patrick Connor or Patricks Connors. Less common, but useable.
    B.Mac, what would you say to using foreign names? For example, one of my characters’ name is Tyrone Ní Mhuirceartaigh. Thoughts?

  97. B. McKenzieon 01 Dec 2012 at 2:24 pm

    “Tyrone Ní Mhuirceartaigh…” If the story is written in English, I would recommend something which non-Irish people would find easier to pronounce/read. Some Irish surnames which strike me as notably unusual but easier to pronounce would include Callaghan, Conroy, Cormick/McCormick, Delaney, Dolan or Dulain, McFadden, Flanagan, Flynn, Kennagh, Mulloy, Rafferty, and Slattery.

    Alternately, if you’re dead-set on Ní Mhuirceartaigh, I would recommend using it only once throughout the book (referring to the character as “Tyrone” or “he” or other pronouns every other time).

  98. acharaon 01 Dec 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you! Tyrone’s actually a girl, hence the ‘Ní’… I could probably anglicize it to Moriarty. Would that be smoother?

  99. Dr. Vo Spaderon 01 Dec 2012 at 3:12 pm

    @Achara,

    You said your “Tyrone” was a girl…is this pronounced in a different way than TIE-RONE? Just curious.

  100. acharaon 02 Dec 2012 at 1:55 am

    No, it’s pronounced the same. Would that be a problem, do you think?

  101. B. McKenzieon 02 Dec 2012 at 2:33 am

    On a sort of minor note, I think most non-Irish people would be completely new to Ni vs. Ban. But I think your new surname strikes me as smoother and clearer (assuming the audience is mostly non-Irish), which strikes me as a bigger issue than whether Tyrone makes it sound like she’s a guy. So I think that’s encouraging…

  102. Dr. Vo Spaderon 02 Dec 2012 at 9:15 am

    @Achara,

    I (of course) agree with B. Mac. It wouldn’t be a problem, and I wasn’t aware of the “Ni” purpose. I get the feeling that knowing it now is going to help me at some point!

  103. Anonymouson 27 Dec 2012 at 12:40 pm

    I got a 94 out of 100. My character is a half-elf, but he does not know it. He learns pretty quick, though. Also, I do have a mentor, but he does not want to train the MC, he was forced. Are these things workable?

  104. B. McKenzieon 27 Dec 2012 at 5:39 pm

    The mentor sounds workable–you will probably have good opportunities for conflict there. The character being a half-elf raises red flags for me about whether he’ll be interesting, but this might be an idiosyncrasy on my part rather than any trend that half-species characters tend to be relentlessly uninteresting. My recommendation there would be 1) use a more unexpected species than elf (or dragon) as the second species, and 2) make sure that both parts of his heritage repeatedly raise obstacles for him throughout the story.

  105. Dr. Vo Spaderon 18 Mar 2013 at 4:04 pm

    I’ve read on the site before that the character looking at his reflection is a bad idea. But does this apply to when a character sees his reflection and realizes how much he/she has changed?

    —–

    Also, I’m curious – how do you feel about flashbacks via recorded videos? I’ve seen it a lot in games, but I’m not sure how it would transfer into a novel.

  106. B. McKenzieon 18 Mar 2013 at 5:01 pm

    “But does this apply to when a character sees his reflection and realizes how much he/she has changed?” Hmm. This strikes me as workable–in this case, I’d recommend making sure that there’s some sort of emotional impact to what we see in the reflection rather than “my (say) superhero transformation changed me a lot.”

  107. Nayanon 18 Mar 2013 at 8:36 pm

    “my (say) superhero transformation changed me a lot.”

    That was done in Spider Man 1, I think. Peter Parkar noticed changes in his body in the mirror after he had been bitten by a spider.

  108. Dr. Vo Spaderon 05 Apr 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Recently, I’ve wanted to write in a reference to a song, but I’m not clear on what the legal repercussions would be. I’d really like to use it because it feels like the music my MC would have grown up with and it matches his life/situation in life so perfectly. (Creedence Clearwater Revival: Fortunate Son) I know its fairly aged, but wasn’t sure if that had any bearing.

  109. Xos Melon 02 Jun 2013 at 5:31 pm

    That “homo superiors” test you were talking about sounds a bit iffy. In my story almost everyone (except for like 7% of the human population) has been changed and has “super powers”, a couple of which include telepathy, teleportation, invisibility, and transformation. The rest tend to have increases strength or weapons that are part of their body.

    As far as I can tell, nothing’s too bad, and the main character certainly isn’t a mary-sue, but he is a changed human.

  110. Elecon 06 Jun 2013 at 1:00 am

    With the last question, I answer no, but my main character never learns who his parents are, so that cliché doesn’t fit. Just sayin’

  111. only under the rafterson 08 Jun 2013 at 4:26 pm

    awesome 🙂 i only got a couple wrong (over-used obscenities, and 3 POV characters) but i think i can work with that

  112. Someoneon 03 Aug 2013 at 8:10 am

    Does my character getting a special ability to make up for a disability count as getting his abilities by luck? He lost his arms in an accident and eventually ended up becoming sort of telekinetic(I don’t want to explain how as it would take too long, but basically he could mentally manipulate objects touching his body) in a random encounter with someone who wanted to help him stop having to write and pick up things with his mouth(something he wasn’t very good at anyway) and gave him his abilities

  113. Someoneon 03 Aug 2013 at 8:14 am

    Does being the brother of the subject of the prophecy count? He was actually thought to be the subject of the prophecy for awhile after it was revealed but his sister ended up fulfilling it in the end.

  114. B. McKenzieon 04 Aug 2013 at 1:04 pm

    “Does being the brother of the subject of the prophecy count?” Yes.

  115. Proxie#0on 04 Aug 2013 at 1:30 pm

    @ Someone

    “Does my character getting a special ability to make up for a disability count as getting his abilities by luck?” “…in a RANDOM encounter with someone who wanted to help him stop having to write and pick up things with his mouth and gave him his abilities”

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say it would be luck in every case, but in yours it does sound more contrived. For a similar, and more active, origin story, you ould look to the newer Dr. Strange (Marvel). He originally lost all mobility of his hands after they were crushed, all bones broken beyond repair. Being a doctor, this would easily cost him his job. But he attempted to persevered, and sought out countless surgeries in hopes of fixing his hands, going through almost all of his money.

    He, in a final, last ditch effort, decided to go with a mysterious offer. There, he found all of the magical mumbo jumbo, and essentially learned to use magic. This ability itself made up for the need to use his hands, because “Magic doesn’t require the use of hands.” Of course,t hey later ret-connded the whorl “My hands, I can’t use my HANDS!” thing, but its comics, so what do you expect?

  116. ByTheFarmsteadon 05 Aug 2013 at 2:12 am

    Using pronouns in the first sentence is always bad? I understand in the case if the vaguer pronouns like ‘he’ or ‘it’ in your bad example, but using ‘I’ is also a pronoun for first person storytelling.

  117. B. McKenzieon 05 Aug 2013 at 2:50 am

    Ah, great point! I generally consider “I” to be a specified pronoun — when a first-person narrator uses it, I can infer that it’s the main character talking. In contrast, when someone says “he” or “she,” the context is a bit harder to place. Other considerations:

    1) There’s virtually no cost to giving us something to refer to the character as preferably a name, or at least a profession. In contrast, with a first-person narrator, it is a bit more challenging to work in the character’s name into the narration, so I wouldn’t feel the author was being unnecessarily cryptic/unclear if the character is a bit slower giving us a name.

    1.1) Notable exception: An unspecified pronoun might help if you are INTENDING for the character to come across as less individualized in some regard. E.g. “There was a man and he had eight sons. Apart from that, he was nothing more than a comma on the page of History. It’s sad, but that’s all you can say about some people.”

    1.2) Another possible exception: If someone is such a singular example of something that you feel it would be more effective NOT to specify who he/she is in the opening sentence. “To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.”

  118. Amy Pondon 21 Apr 2014 at 10:10 pm

    I said no to the “At the start of the book, does the hero know who his real parents are?” But it isn’t that she thinks her friendly surrogate father (Got that ‘wrong’ too) is her real father. It’s that she thinks her parents are dead and she’s never met them, but that was really just a semi-elaborate cover-up pretending that her homeland is a utopia rather than a dystopia. So it isn’t as cliche as “Whoa you aren’t my father” or “Whoa you’re my father.” Some things here are too rigid to account for everything, in my opinion.

  119. Anonymouson 23 Apr 2014 at 9:35 am

    what if the main character has his goals twisted and warped?

  120. Tryphenna Gatchon 28 Apr 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Does question #1 (More then two POV characters) mean first -and- third person?
    At this point I am trying out a close third for my main character and another neutral third for actions when he is not present, although I keep slipping into people’s heads by mistake.
    Anyone have thoughts on this?

  121. B. McKenzieon 28 Apr 2014 at 5:51 pm

    “Does question #1 (More then two POV characters) mean first -and- third person?” No. Having more than 2 POV characters would be like rotating chapters between the perspectives of (say) a serial killer and the detective trying to catch him or (more commonly) between multiple protagonists.

    It sounds like what you have in mind is more like switching between first and third person narration, which strikes me as exceptionally rare — the only case that comes to mind is that it briefly happened in one of the Harry Potter books* and I think I’ve seen it used to quickly wrap up a scene after the point-of-view character is killed or knocked unconscious. I’d have to see how you were executing it, but I’d probably come to the same conclusion that you did (that the author is slipping up rather than making a stylistic choice) — unless there’s something unusual happening that makes it clear the author’s choice is intentional or justified**. Fortunately, if it’s an error you’d like to get rid of, I’m guessing that catching and fixing this will be pretty easy when you’re re-reading your draft.

    *Almost the entire Harry Potter series is told through a limited third-person perspective centered on what Harry experiences. There’s a scene in one of the books that cuts away from Harry’s perspective to someone about to be murdered by Voldemort. Also, I think the very opening scene in the series (when Harry is an infant) is centered on Dumbledore and Hagrid.

    **For example, if a character has no individuality (e.g. he’s a Borg-like cyborg or alien), I could envision a scenario where it might make sense to give that character third-person narration even if the story generally uses first-person.

  122. Nadjaon 25 May 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Hello,

    I have a tendency to only make up planet and race names. Even then, some of them are just words translated to into different language. That isn’t a bad thing, is it?

    And for the point of view switching, does that mean switching between first and third person? If so, then I don’t do that as I tend to stick with third person. I answered as “yes” because I was confused. If it is the case of switching between first and third person, then my answer is no. Making my score a 94% rather than 91%

    Thanks,
    Nadja

  123. Mynaon 25 May 2014 at 5:32 pm

    I don’t think that’s bad, if you’re setting a story on another planet where more races exist than the ones we know, you kind of half to make a name for them and the planet. As long as the name isn’t overly complicated like Ya’aabu-fjxdcjElemenifi or something you’re good.

    I think it means between characters. Like, if you have a first person character but you switch to the first person of another character frequently.

  124. Nadjaon 25 May 2014 at 6:24 pm

    @Myna
    No, nothing insane like that, so that is good. I tend to keep it understandable.

    I use my two MC point of views frequently, but I don’t change between the two so often, that it gets to the point where I only have one paragraph for one MC, then switch to the other. I usually switch mid-chapter, or at the end. Sometimes it won’t switch for a couple chapters at a time.

  125. Mynaon 25 May 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I think it might be a good idea to keep the time between each POV change consistent (like change every scene, or every chapter, or every five chapters, etc) instead of making it like mid-chapter one time, three chapters with the next POV, then a paragraph with the next before we switch again, etc.

    That said you could pull it off, and it doesn’t make a huge difference so long as the amount of time between POV changes isn’t too different from jump to jump. I just feel like if the time intervals are really varied it could get jarring but it might not be depending on how it’s written

  126. Nadjaon 25 May 2014 at 8:27 pm

    @Myna

    I do the best I can for consistency. See, I’m writing about the lives of my two MCs, so a time jump is sometimes needed more than it is at other points in the story. For example, a walk that takes eight days to complete. the first day is okay, but usually after about halfway through of the same thing, it gets pretty boring… So skip to the end of the eight day walk.

  127. Mynaon 25 May 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Ah okay, that makes sense. Better to skip boring parts than to strictly adhere to consistency if it’s just gonna kill the flow of your story

  128. Nadjaon 26 May 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Yes. Throughout my story, I sometimes skip a few years, due to if I would add in those years, the flow would be ruined. Other times, I wouldn’t jump over a single day of the week, depending on what happens, and how it affects the overall flow of the story.

  129. Dannyon 20 Jun 2014 at 1:04 pm

    What if you go to the POV for example of a soldier in an enemy camp right before and as the attack starts?

  130. B. McKenzieon 21 Jun 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Danny, I think that sounds promising.

  131. Erinon 13 Sep 2014 at 12:43 am

    I thought the question about the hero not knowing who their parents are was a bit unfair. One of my MC’s was dropped off as a baby on the doorstep of a Guild that raised her to be a fighter (common enough in the society that it wasn’t anything to set her apart in her childhood) and her mother is just another wealthy noble from the city who gave her up at birth as a matter of questionable paternity. Neither of her biological parents are a hero or a villain, and they never enter into the story. I made it part of her character that she acts certain ways because she did not have a traditional family model as a child and doesn’t have some of the emotional responses or learned behavior one might expect from someone else, often resulting in unfavorable opinions toward her from other characters.

  132. Kenzieon 16 Sep 2014 at 8:13 am

    Is the primary purpose of the quiz to have authors stay away from tropes and stereotypes in the genre? Several of the quiz questions seem to be too obvious and leading (e.g., bland versus colorful choices in descriptors), and some are incredibly subjective (e.g. character’s name not being hyphenated).

  133. B. McKenzieon 18 Sep 2014 at 4:56 pm

    “Is the primary purpose of the quiz to have authors stay away from tropes and stereotypes in the genre?” This assumes that my work is thought out and/or has coherent objectives. It’s a pretty dicey proposition.

  134. theSERIALKILLERwriteron 28 Dec 2014 at 6:23 am

    It is quite funny to take this test as it doesn’t apply to my main character. My main character is in fact a good guy becoming the bad guy through a series of traumatic events leading to an eventual mental breakdown in Book 1. All of these questions are aimed around the typical superhero like Spider-Man. Thus this makes this quiz very bland to the eye of ones imagination. You might want to make this more adequate for stories all around instead of the much used clichés…

  135. M. P.on 11 Mar 2015 at 10:19 am

    So I was looking at your website (which is fantastic, by the way) looking for tips on making a believable villain for my fantasy and came across your quiz and decided to take it for future reference. This is my first attempt at writing, and I am a little intimidated.

    Of course, I am still in the planning stage and haven’t truly started writing yet, so many of your questions don’t apply to me, but the question about more than two points of view alarmed me because I have 7 main characters, who often work together as a team.

    They are a new race of people with some magical properties. I don’t want to confuse my readers too much but want them to truly understand each of the characters and their individual thoughts. Currently, I have them switching points of view every chapter or so, they never switch POV within a chapter. Any advice on how to capture each of their thoughts without confusing the reader too much?

    Also, many of these character’s lineage’s are hidden from even the character until certain parts in the book and there is a mentor, but he is more of a leading team member. Sort of an interesting teacher, and he has his weaknesses as well as his strengths.

    Perhaps I just named the worst combination of no-nos ever, but that’s what I’ve got. Any advice?

  136. Alistairon 06 Nov 2015 at 10:38 am

    I have a Mary Sue, but I intend to reveal at some point that she’s bad

  137. Alistairon 06 Nov 2015 at 10:46 am

    I don’t know what to check on the great prophecy question. I have one because the villain is the chosen one.

  138. Seriously?on 15 Mar 2016 at 11:05 pm

    Never before have I seen such a narcissistic individual/group of individuals. To create a quiz based on your own preferences and then to tell people that what they write is incorrect or wrong due to not meeting the criteria of said preferences?

    Half of the things you say not to do in this quiz have already been done by famous authors anyway, a lot of them within their first books before they were famous.
    You seriously need to stop trying to get people to write according to your standards.

    You can try and deny it all you want, but it’s pretty obvious to see that that’s exactly what you’re trying to do.

  139. B. McKenzieon 16 Mar 2016 at 7:13 am

    “Never before have I seen such a narcissistic individual/group of individuals… You can try and deny it all you want, but it’s pretty obvious to see that that’s exactly what you’re trying to do.” It IS pretty obvious — as noted before, I’m trying to be the most villainous McKenzie in the world, but I’m not close yet. 5 million readers would also be pretty cool (halfway there, so presumably it’s useful to someone). What are you going for?

    PS: We’ve had some insightful comments along these lines (how useful is writing advice if it’s just the advisor’s opinion?). I think that can be asked of ANY advice, actually. If you find the advice useful, cool. If not, maybe there’s someone whose advice you’d find more useful. Failing that, I’d recommend getting your money back. 🙂

  140. Aj of Earthon 16 Mar 2016 at 9:29 am

    “You seriously need to stop trying to get people to write according to your standards.”

    Well, let’s not misunderstand or sell folks short here.

    As a free-thinking writer who makes my own creative decisions while at the same time finding this site to be extremely useful, I’d honestly say from my own experience that the quiz and related advice is more to get folks to think about these things in general, at all, where before they might not have–putting an active awareness of genre and convention on the authorial radar, if you will. Beyond that, writers are responsible for their own choices, which I think everyone pretty much gets.

    Certainly, I’ve had several moments in the development of my novel (which I feel is my own, as well as a strong story) where I found myself falling back on advice here, including this particular article, to figure out the best for way for me, just me personally, to move forward. Some advice I’ve taken true because it was the appropriate literary move, some not. There’s also some that I’ve played around with, created a middle-ground with to specifically fit my story. In any of these instances however, it isn’t about following gospel or standards or “wrong” or “right” writing, so much as the utilization a solid, informed sounding board for my own ideas.

    I’d wager this, at least generally, is the way most writers approach writing advice. They decide for themselves what works and what doesn’t, and they genuinely appreciate the opportunity to become so discerning.

    Also, “It IS pretty obvious, I think–I’m trying to be the most villainous McKenzie in the world…”

    This is rich.

  141. Archiboldon 16 Mar 2016 at 11:05 am

    “It IS pretty obvious, I think — I’m trying to be the most villainous McKenzie in the world,”

    Sarcasm doesn’t equal an argument.

  142. B. McKenzieon 16 Mar 2016 at 5:13 pm

    I’m not particularly interested in an argument, but thank you for your offer. Best of wishes for your writing.

  143. Andrewon 03 May 2016 at 3:38 am

    I took the test

    Not sure about #29 though. If a mentor character doesn’t believe that his pupil(s) has what it takes or doesn’t want to train them, I personally believe that’s gonna make them pretty dislikeable. Now, if the pupils were visibly unready for something, that would be different, indicating they’d be willing to sacrifice themselves so that their student doesn’t have to

  144. Spiceon 24 Jul 2016 at 11:22 pm

    Ahh, nice! I scored 87%.
    I’ve never really branded myself as a writer.. I’m an illustrator and visual narrative is my usual trade, but this quiz and advice is still very useful for me.

    I’ve been working on one particular story for probably 6 years now? I suppose.
    It’s a mix of written chapters with illustrations and 2-3 panel comics in between (because I cannot stand to have walls of text and a sea of words with no visuals for miles).

    It’s a fantasy about elves… a lost princess who gets more adventure than she bargained for. I’ve never really been familiar with Norse, Irish or Tolkien’s elf lores, nor the elf lore in things like WoW or Dragon Age, so my only choice was to make everything up, instead of leaning on the pre-established… which isn’t a bad thing, as long as I do it right.

    I rejected the “tall, slender, semi-medieval, white European with a British accent, long blonde hair and a pointy nose” idea and the majority of my characters are POC and of varied body types….not to just be “quirky and different”, but because, as a POC myself, I know you need to see people who look like you in the thing you enjoy… and if that means a dark-skinned elf princess with a pink afro or a brown, thick-thighed, horticulturalist elf love interest as main characters, then that’s what it means.
    I also created so far 4 races of elf (there may be another on the way, but I haven’t fabricated them yet). Basically there is the Afari (forest elves), Dokari (Dark elves), Lunari (moon elves) and the Vulpelves (fox-like elves….which I don’t feel like explaining. Not a long or complicated story, but too long for this comment).

    Here’s the thing….
    I had to make up all the lore and history and I am sure that the story won’t come across as cliché or stale because of this, but I’m also worried that it could go the other way.. like I was trying too hard to be “special” and the story becomes a giant parade of what already exists, just turned on its head to be “something different”. You know.. the “You’ve never seen an elf story like THIS before!” type of gimmick.
    Maybe it’s about just proper world building and making sure everything adds up and makes sense.
    So far, worldbuilding-wise, I have a lot of things mapped out.. who trades with who, histories of the elf race clans, leaders, economy, how the clans interact with each other (whether in the same clan or different clans) and things of that nature, but since I am only one person building all of this (and I’m not the most realistic or comprehensible person) I feel like my logistics could be out of whack as well…and now I’m rambling. Lol but hopefully someone gets and understand my point.

  145. Vixis Shiar'Deluson 25 Jul 2016 at 12:59 pm

    So, I’ll go ahead and post the discrepancies that I had on the test, and hopefully my “excuses” or “reasons it should be okay” both make sense and do legitimately make it okay…

    Q.1) Does your story have more than two point-of-view characters?

    I don’t have one for every character, but I have at least two protagonists (who have very different viewpoints and locations in the story) and possibly a few more (all very different characters who I don’t think it would be easy to get confused when reading).

    Q.4) Do you have any food-centric scenes? For example, the characters stop to have lunch or attend an Elvish banquet or something.

    Technically yes, but it is more there to force characters together so that you can see how they react in a neuteral enviroment, or an enviroment where they can’t do or say what they’d like.

    Q.12) Do any of your characters have an apostrophe or a dash in their name?

    Kinda similar to how last names are for Kryptonians in the DCU. The first half (before the apostophe) is their family name, while the second half (after the apostrophe) is their tribe/clan name.

    Q.18) Are any of the main characters the subject of a great prophecy?

    The Novae (invading alien species from a dying planet trying to turn earth into their new home) have a prophecy about their worlds (purported) savior (he really just helped them gain sentience…then tried to enslave them and force them down a specific evolutionary path) returning to guide them to a great future and other grand ideas like that. During the course of the story, one of the main antagonists begins losing some of the faith of his followers, and ends up relying on religious fanatics in his following to slowly spread word that he is their savior (in order to dispel doubt that he is right and show that the antagonist who’d rather work with humanity is wrong). So yes…but also no.

    Q.21) Does your story use real-world brand-names?

    I don’t openly use most brand names that exist, but I know that some of our brand names do exist. My story takes place in a world that’s different for a variety of ways, non the least being a different path that WWII took (Hitler decided to invade Britain, Allies tricked the Soviets into going to war, Soviet Union still exists, though more in a form of the UN). Naturally, changes to history affect how companies developed, and most are different. Some have stayed the same though. And none of it really impacts the story (with most being handled in the way you mentioned in the post test advice).
    Q.25) Do your fight scenes ever include more than 4 combatants?

    Q.29) Does your story use a mentor character that is either 1) preparing the main character(s) for a destined struggle or 2) a friendly surrogate father for the main character?

    Funny thing, that. One of my main characters is in a sort of relationship (they view it as something more, while the surrogate figure views it as slightly less. I know it sounds like it would come off really weird, but I promise it is much less so.) Essenitally they are certainly physically attracted to each other…but one cares more for the other than the other does about him. And is also concerned about their political career… Despite that, he does care and is trying to make sure the main character doesn’t get himself hurt, and does assist him in various ways (since he does have some political power).

    Q.30) Do you overuse obscenities? (If any of your sentences have 2+ obscenities, the answer is yes).

    I actually am a Marine…

  146. YpsiFangon 30 Oct 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Why should there never be over 4 combatants? As long as it’s handled well I don’t see the issue. Sure it would require a lot of juggling to make it coherent and interesting but that’s up to the author to execute well.

    Plus, how would it work if the narrator of my book is transformed without his knowledge or intent, notices something’s up, then goes to a lake to check on himself? Would that work or would it render the book less publishable?

  147. YpsiFangon 30 Oct 2016 at 6:19 pm

    I’ll make like Vixis above me and list why some things considered bad are maybe okay in my novel, and see if anyone has anything to say about it.

    Q: Do you ever describe how a character looks by having him glance at his own reflection? (This usually involves a mirror, a puddle or a weapon).

    A. Yes. (your answer)
    B. No. (correct answer)

    My response:
    The thing is that it’s only used to show that he turned into a wolf without realizing it, not to show his appearance otherwise. All he says is that he’s a wolf now, not detailing how he looks otherwise.

    Q: Did you use pronouns in the first paragraphs?
    A. Yes. (your answer)
    B. No. (correct answer)
    My response:
    I only used pronouns because it was first-person. “I” is technically a pronoun. I assume based on the explanation that it doesn’t count for this case, though.

    Q: Over the course of the book, does anyone disagree with or oppose your main character without coming off as nasty, evil or stupid?

    A. No. (your answer)
    B. No, because my main character is so heroic that you’d have to be evil or stupid to disagree with him. (Minus two!)
    C. Yes. (correct answer)

    My response:
    It’s because I’m in the very early stages of writing. There’s one character in particular I plan on having reprimand him for something dumb or morally questionable that he did.

    Q: Do your fight scenes ever include more than 4 combatants?

    A. Yes. (your answer)
    B. No. (correct answer)
    My response:
    In this case, the reasoning is twofold: One, I plan on having groups of what amount to zombies attack the protagonists, so there have to be more than just four. Two, I plan on including six main characters, though as I think about it I could probably merge two of them. Which is why I’m working on a timeline instead of a finished manuscript at the moment.

  148. Jed Hon 31 Oct 2016 at 5:03 am

    “Do you have any food-centric scenes? For example, the characters stop to have lunch or attend an Elvish banquet or something.”

    I have no issue with scenes that involve food, as well as the scene is about the food having a higher function than providing sustenance/possibility for a cookbook spin-off. Amoung other scenes, food scenes can be used to:

    1) Show characters bonding, forming friendships, etc.
    2) Force characters who hate each other into a semi-confined space – in Harry Potter, for instance, mealtimes in the Great Hall are one of the few times where Harry is in direct contact with friends/enemies from other houses.
    3) Display the character(s)’s socio-economic status (i.e. by describing a character eating gruel you know he’s from a lower class than a character who eats caviar)

    This article provides some further reasons how food scenes can be used to propel your story and develop characters: http://www.betternovelproject.com/blog/food-symbolism/

    (Of course, I understand that you’re coming at this from a ‘I don’t want to read scenes that are just about eating and nothing else’ perspective. I agree with this – I just want to point out that scenes involving food are not automatically bad)

  149. (o_n')on 01 Nov 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Ypsifang: 1. I would prefer the description of the feeling being wolf, rather just description of he is wolf now. I think the feeling of not being able to stand up on two legs and out of suddenly can smell all butchers in certain area, the feeling of a paw in your face is than let us say my arms got seriously hairy.

    2. I think it is very different how writers do pronouns in the first paragraphs or not.
    I just compared a newer fantasy book to Steinbecks Tortillaflats. The fantasy book did not use pronouns in the first two paragraphs, Tortillaflats has pronouns in the first paragraph.
    I would say in Tortillaflats’ defence, it is from 1935, and should have in terms of writing flown some water under the brigde since.

    3. Even in early stage of writing, you should have clear idea about wich obtacles you want to add. It might help you to visualize in some way, a synopsis, something visual as moodboard, scrapbook etc..

    4. I don’t like compats with focus on more than a few persons at time. They can be fighting at same time, but better have focus on 2-3 or let zombie mob split them up.
    Bonus would be they don’t know how or where the others are. Zombies counts in many ways as single antigonists. But not in fist fights.

  150. Anonymouson 07 Mar 2017 at 2:08 am

    My story has 3 POV(hero, one of the. 2 major villain and 3rd person pov ) along with a flashback 3rd person pov ( focuses on a main character who was a neurologist)
    Is it okay ?
    By the way in the end it’s revealed that all of them (except obviously the 3rd person pov ) are the same character Kenny Fawkes suffering from personality disorder .

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