Grade Your Chapters: Author ToolBox

It’s time for my March contribution to the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of authors post their thoughts on subjects of writing.  This month I discuss Grading Your Chapters. Slide1

I tend to write short chapters that shift by venue, time or maybe point of view.  My 325-page novels may have 40 or more chapters.  I find shorter chapters help the story progress rapidly and give readers a sense of achievement as they move through the novel.

After finishing a first draft and before I turn the manuscript over to Claudia (my editor), I read the book end to end to get a feel for continuity and flow, grading each chapter (1-poor to 5-excellent).  I’ll then return to focus on those chapters rated the lowest, but will eventually work to improve each of them.

The questions I ask as I grade the chapters include:

  • Does the first paragraph(s) grab you, pulling you forward?
  • Is anything new presented to the reader? If so, is it described or told as backdrop?
  • If new characters are introduced, are they compelling and needed for the plot?
  • Are there elements of intrigue, danger, excitement, or mystery? If not, what purpose does the chapter serve?
  • Does the end of the chapter leave the reader wanting more or does it just fall off?

One additional editing step that can be done at this time is running each chapter through a writing editor like ProWritingAid, Grammarly, or AutoCrit.  There are many other editors, and I’m not suggesting which one is the best, although I’m most familiar with ProWritingAid.  The output of these tools is voluminous, and it’s eventually the author’s decision on which recommendations to use.

I will typically read and edit my manuscript several times before having Claudia mark it up, but this chapter focus is a bite-sized way for me to tackle the first major revisions.

Not all chapters can be spinetinglers, but having a multi-chapter lull in a book is difficult to overcome.  It might lead to the reader placing the book or e-reader on the nightstand, never to return.  Grading your chapters can find these lulls before your readers discover them.

To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE. Happy blogging!

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You can read an award-winning short story from MOST MEN HERE.  Pour a cup of coffee and sit back.  It’s FREE and very few calories.

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You Can’t Go Home Again


It was Thomas Wolfe who recognized that “you can’t go home again.”  Having just visited my hometown, I sadly agree.

During the 60’s, I grew up in Delavan, Illinois, a town of 2,000 people south of Peoria.  After going off to college and getting married, my job took me across the U.S. and the world.  My 88-year-old parents are doing well and still live in Delavan, hence my recent visit.

Founded in 1837, Delavan is much like you’d envision a small Midwestern town. It has a Main Street lined with two-story storefronts. Railroad tracks intersect near a towering grain elevator where an iconic train station formerly sat.  Streets are laid out in grids, extending one mile in each direction from the lone stoplight at the center of town.

I remember my childhood fondly. I imagine most of my Delavan schoolmates have similar memories.  Back then, the downtown was bustling with activity.  It’s not so now.  Many of the downtown stores are empty or transitioning to a business that history indicates will likely fail.  The bowling alley, movie theater, clothing stores, hardware store, lumber yard, jewelry store, and Ben Franklin are gone. Hometown eateries come and go, but mostly go.  Delavan supported two grocery stores for years, but now a Dollar General at the edge of town is the only option for food basics.

Taking a ride around the loop, the clutter and disrepair of homes and businesses detract from the charm of the historic town.  If Delavan has a zoning ordinance or building codes, they don’t appear to be enforced.  Home repairs and building projects continue in full view for years with little progress.  Entering the town from the east, a visitor’s first view of Delavan is acres of used cars and trucks, slowly sinking to their axles at the Ford dealership.

I’m not sure why things have gone downhill.  One factor is fewer manufacturing jobs are available in neighboring cities.  Walmart and other nearby big box stores also have impacted small-town retail businesses. Neither explains why clutter, disrepair and unenforced ordinances are tolerated.

There are elements of my childhood memories that remain intact. Delavan has maintained its parks and recreational facilities.  Kids play baseball at the same diamonds where I took the field over 50 years ago.  You can still go fishing at park ponds where I caught my first bluegill.  Citizens recently voted to increase property taxes to rebuild Delavan’s high school after town leaders stressed that a school was essential to maintaining the town’s identity.  The longstanding weekly newspaper, The Delavan Times, continues to publish community and school activities and provides a unique source of the town’s history.  Delavan also has a tradition of hosting a Fall Festival, complete with a parade, fireworks, talent contests, 5K run, and amusement rides.

I wish Delavan and its citizens well.  The community made a positive impact on my life, but my hometown changed.  I changed.  Once my parents are gone, I will visit less frequently, or maybe not at all.  Sadly, Thomas Wolfe was right.