I have just finished the next draft of a Mid Grade novel about two city kids stranded in outback Australia, struggling to survive on their wits.

I’m happy with how the story is going. The plot has the elements it needs – a strong beginning, a middle with plenty of action and an end that ties everything up for the reader. It even has turning points for the character and a mid-point reversal where the story is taken in a new direction.

But it lacks spark – it lacks those details – that telling information that will make the reader think, “I really know that character”; that will make them feel immersed in the world of my story.

Fortunately, all is not lost. When I am editing a novel, I always make notes of the things that need fixing in the next draft. I look out for the flat spots – for the parts where there’s not enough telling detail – where I haven’t truly got inside my main character’s head and heart.

I’m about to start the next draft, but luckily, I took notes when I was writing the last one. My notes tell me exactly where the flat spots are and they have these added suggestions:

  1. The main character doesn’t make enough observations about himself and his behaviour (my manuscript is written in first person). This would help the reader see how he grows throughout the story.
  2. The character has been thrown into an unfamiliar setting and this is an important part of the story – make more  comparisons and contrasts between where he is now and his world ‘back home’.
  3. Use cues to identify the main character’s location so that the reader is more aware of where he is.
  4. Play more on kids’ phobias.
  5. Use more sensory detail in terms of smell and taste.
  6. More emotion – need to know more of what is going on inside main character’s head. How is all this affecting him?
  7. As things get worse, how does this make the main character feel – sure they are going to die or determined to survive? Do his feelings fluctuate?
  8. In between the action, need more lighter scenes to help build the tension.
  9. Need more physical description about the main character and his injuries so the reader understands how they hamper his actions.
  10. The main character is in a life-threatening situation and there are no adults around. Make him do more risky things that parents wouldn’t want him doing because that’s how he and his younger sister are going to survive.
  11. The siblings are alone so there is nobody there to tell them what to do or say. Include more tension between the siblings – they are under stress with no parental supervision – of course they are going to fight with each other.

These are just some of the notes I made to help me get inside the heads of my characters more and into their world.

I’d love to hear how you prepare for the next draft or fix the flat spots in your story.

Feel free to share your tips and experiences in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)



  1. Thanks for this timely advice, Dee. I am in the process of carefully going back over my character’s responses to the challenging situations she finds herself in and specifically how she feels within. Not enough internalisation makes it difficult for the reader to empathise.

  2. Hi Angela,

    Striking the right balance isn’t easy is it? As you say, internalisation can help your reader empathise, but too much can slow your story down.

    Happy writing:)


  3. Internalisation can help your reader empathise, but too much can slow your story down.
    Yes, Yes, YES! And it drives some male readers barmy. One of the major problems I see in first person mss I assess is that the boys telling the story all too often sound like girls ‘cos, hello, the author is FEMALE. When I’m doing male first person I always reflect on the way my dad, husband and son talk and also the way they react to books and films. Their most common complaint is TOO MUCH EMOTIONAL STUFF. GET ON WITH THE *&)(*& STORY!

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