The Literary Assassin

Fiction, fashion, and hand-to-hand combat by Holly Messinger

The point of this is to help me understand how the writer views his own work. It's a chance for the author to explain himself, to tell me what he was going for. I've heard teachers and editors say, "The work has to speak for itself: you won't be there to explain it to the reader." But when I'm critting, I'm not exactly the end consumer. I'm a peer and a guide, and I can only offer effective directions if I know where the author is trying to get to.

Sometimes authors get pissed off by this, feeling they or the work are being judged. The last few questions are particularly touchy, because deep down authors really fear their work doesn't have enough "message." Relax, friends. Nobody expects your fantasy novel to change the world. (Science fiction, now... maybe.) But your story will only be as entertaining as it is satisfying, and in order to satisfy there has to be some point to the journey. So what did your half-elven orphan/heir to the throne learn, en route to saving the kingdom? If you can't answer this question, you got some rewriting to do.

I recommend using this survey on your own work, possibly in tandem with a good Character Profile Worksheet.


by Holly Messinger

free for private use, but please credit me

Storytelling questions:

  1. Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? How does the reader know?
  2. Briefly state the defining traits of the protagonist. What does the author do in the story to demonstrate these traits? What does the protagonist do that contradicts these traits? Are these contradictions deliberate on the part of the author? If so, does the text justify this contradictory behavior, and how?
  3. Answer these questions for the antagonist, also.
  4. What is the protagonist's main goal and why? What about the antagonist?
  5. What is the climax of the story?
  6. Does the protagonist have a turning point? What is it? Why?
  7. What about the antagonist?
  8. What is this story about? (NOT a rehash of the plot. What is the central theme? Revenge? Loyalty? Love?)
  9. What's the "point" of this story? It doesn't have to be a world-changing moral Truth. But what has the hero gained that made all the trials and tribulations worthwhile? What's the payoff for the reader? (NOTE: you may have answered this question in the previous response and not realized it.)
  10. What do you like most about this piece? Least?
  11. What was your original inspiration for writing this story? Do you feel this execution has validated the original vision? Why or why not?
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