The Balanced Scorecard of Writing: A Self-Review Checklist

In the business world, many organizations use a “Balanced Scorecard” approach to holistically measure how well they’re doing (the concept was introduced by authors Robert Kaplan and David Norton). The idea is to self-examine your business through four lenses or perspectives: customer, financial, internal processes, and learning and growth.

It occurred to me that a similar concept can be applied when self-critiquing your manuscript, chapter by chapter.

Let’s say for each chapter, you assessed the chapter from four perspectives. Using classic and perennial writing tips, it might look as follows:

1) Tension– Is there tension and inner or outer conflict on each page? Can lectures become debates? Can suspense be dragged out? Are readers left dying to know what happens next at the end of the chapter?
2) Dialogue– Is the dialogue crisp, realistic (but not so realistic as to be boring), and unique to each character? Does it read well when you read it out loud?

3) Plot– Is the plot moving forward? Is anything distracting us from it? Have you cut out the parts readers tend to skip (per Elmore Leonard’s sage advice)?

4) Character– Where are the characters in their arc? How are they changing? Are we learning a little more about them? Do we see things from the POV character’s perspective? What’s motivating each character in this chapter? How do their motivations conflict with one another?

A streamlined version is to use the three O’s (a slight variation on a tip offered in James Scott Bell’s excellent book, Conflict & Suspense):

  • Objective: Each character must have an objective in the chapter (especially the POV character)
  • Obstacles: There must be obstacles (internal or external) to achieving the objectives
  • Opinion: The POV character’s opinions and inner feelings should be made vivid
Sure there are many other tips, and many other editing passes (proofreading, logical flow, etc.), but I found the above to be a useful reminder to examine the book from all these perspectives.  The balanced scorecard of writing. It has a ring to it.  What self-editing tips have you picked up along the way? To comment, click the little cloud in the top right of this post. 

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