Congratulations, you completed your manuscript! What an accomplishment, seriously. It takes a lot of work to get to “The End.” You probably guessed that your work isn’t finished though. Before you query an agent or hire an editor for self-publishing, you need to revise. Here are important developmental revisions to make before you send your baby into the world.
Does your protagonist have agency? That is, does she make decisions that change her life or is she blowing in the breeze, only responding to what goes on around her? Hint: you want the former. While many real-life situations require simply reacting to situations, few want to read about a character like that. Most narratives have a quicker pace and there is greater reader interest when a hero acts (instead of merely reacts).
The best way to edit for this is to search for places in the story where the plot changes because of a choice your protagonist makes. Their choices should be driving action, for better or worse. They can make a mistake or draw false conclusions—this would even be quite interesting. If you find that other people or external issues drive most of the action, it’s time to make structural changes. The main character is called the hero for a reason. Make it their story.
Dialogue scenes are great because they move. They move because there’s normally more “white space” versus words on the page. Witty repartee is always appreciated as well. As important as writing great dialogue is, it needs to be more than idle chatter. Scenes with dialogue are happening right now. That means whatever your characters are talking about should be important enough to listen in on what they’re saying. Ergo, what they’re saying should be important.
Yes, there is a time and place for characters to open up to each other, to develop a rapport. This is particularly important in a romance novel or another story primarily about human connection. That said, these conversations should also drive the action. If characters are simply reviewing what’s already happened or talking about issues not related to the plot, you should consider cutting them.
Characters who over-talk or over-think conclusions or realizations aren’t as interesting as characters who live in the moment. Some stories lend themselves to more internal monologue, and you should do what’s right for your book. However, you also don’t want to spoon feed your reader. If your detective finds a clue she’s been looking for for the past hundred pages, she doesn’t need to think hard about how amazing that is. It’s amazing, and talking or thinking about it isn’t as exciting as the discovery.
My final word about revisions is that you should not be scared to make big changes if necessary. It’s really hard to delete a thousand words at a time, knowing how long it took you to craft them in the first place. It can also be daunting to realize you need to rewrite a big portion of the book in order to make your protagonist’s choices more compelling. Just know it’s worth it. Putting the absolute best, most polished book into the world gives it the greatest chance of success. That will always be worth your time.