Know Your Own Story: Write a Novel Manifesto

Know Your Own Story: Write a Novel ManifestoYou need a novel manifesto. Why? Because you’re never going to be completely objective about your stories. Trust me. You’re just too emotionally involved, too attached to your characters, too excited about your plot twists, too tickled by your snarky dialogue. And the only thing wrong with any of that is that it can make you lose sight of the big picture.

Often, when you begin writing a story, your ideas will be hazy. The final shape of the story will be only a dim outline in the mist. Add to that the fact that the story you put on the page will never be a perfect representation of the story in your imagination, and it’s little wonder you aren’t always aware of precisely where your stories aren’t achieving all you want them to.

But here’s a little trick to help narrow the gap between your idealization of your story and its printed reality: Write yourself a novel manifesto.

How a Novel Manifesto Will Help You Perfect Your Story

Think of this manifesto as the most “perfect” review a reader could ever write about your book.

Ask yourself this: If you could have a professional reviewer read your book and totally get it—totally understand everything you were trying to say with your characters, plot, dialogue, and themes—what would he write about your story?

Close your eyes for a moment, emotionally distance yourself from your story, and pretend you’re that reviewer.

3 Things to Include in Your Novel Manifesto

In her fantastic book Nail Your Novel, novelist and editor Roz Morris suggests:

Write a few paragraphs that state

  • what you intend the audience to feel about the characters
  • the experience you want them to get from the story
  • which scenes should ideally be powerful and the effect you want them to have.

This may take some time. Summarising the goals of a big sprawling manuscript is not easy.

3 (More) Steps to Make Your Novel Manifesto as Useful as Possible

Keep the following suggestions in mind, in order to plumb your perfect review for as much depth as possible:

1. Be Specific

Don’t just let the “reviewer” say he loved the story. Make him tell you why he loved it. What parts are the best? What makes this piece really shine?

2. Be Thorough

Cover every aspect of the story you can think of: plot (including arc, pacing, and originality), characters (including personalities, arc, and development), dialogue, themes, and climax.

3. Be Extravagant

Praise your story to the skies. Layer on the adjectives of adulation. After all, you’re writing from the perspective of a reader who understood and loved your story just as much as you did. So have fun!

What Should Your Novel Manifesto Look Like?

Dreamlander (Amazon affiliate link)

Honestly, your novel manifesto can look any way you want it to! Write whatever would be most helpful to you. Here’s an example I wrote for my portal fantasy Dreamlander. (Click on the images for larger views.) Please excuse the bombast, and remember this is supposed to make your book like the best thing ever written.

Microsoft Word - Good Review of Dreamlander

Microsoft Word - Good Review of Dreamlander

When you’re finished, you’ll have an explicit goal toward which you can strive in molding your story, no matter where you’re at in the outlining, drafting, or revising process. (And then you can look at things from a whole new perspective by writing yourself  a “bad” review.)

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Have you ever written a novel manifesto? How do you think one might help you improve your story? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. This is great! I’m so going to do it!

  2. I wrote one for Dreamers Come last week. Lots of fun and very helpful.

  3. Great idea, and it sounds like fun.

  4. Interesting, especially since I’m crafting a review of a novel I finished last night and a lot of what the writer used in her novel to excess are problem areas for me.

    Good idea, I may have to try this for Homebody soon. 🙂

  5. Sounds like a great idea! I’ll have to try it sometime with my latest WIP 🙂

  6. @Lorna: It is fun!

    @Liberty: It really is surprising the problem areas you can spot through this method.

    @Mia: Giver her a go!

  7. Thanks for the mention! And great idea – I hadn’t thought of developing that exercise in that way (might well go and do it myself..)

  8. I read about another author who used the idea in the review fashion. Can’t remember now who she was.

  9. Oh gosh. That sounds like a lot of work. lol. But great idea! 🙂

  10. Actually, it’s not. Mine took me about forty minutes or so.

  11. Great idea! Will definitely be trying that ;o) Thanks for sharing!

  12. You’re welcome. Hope it proves useful for you!

  13. Hey Katie, I wrote myself a great review. I guess I might be a better writter than I thought! Thanks for the encouragement.

  14. I can see the amazing back cover blurbs already! 😀 You go!

  15. Now there is an exercise I can cope with, thanks.

  16. As you may know from other posts, I’m not generally big on writing exercises. But I found this one very beneficial.

  17. Thank you so much for your expertise, opinions and free resources. They are greatly appreciated.

  18. You’re very welcome. I’m so glad you’ve found them helpful!

  19. So if I get shot by a laser beam or one of my characters jumps out of my story and beats me up I am not at fault right?

    Loved the post and the Idea

  20. Oh, definitely not. Characters have minds of their own!

  21. Sounds fun! But to write a review, one first have to write THAT story :/

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Actually, you can put this technique to work before you’ve even started a draft. Write a review about you *hope* your story will be.

  22. your manifesto is amazing!!! wow I’m so impressed. It’s hard to write like that. Anyhow, would you recommend sharing stuff like this or keeping it to yourself? Wouldn’t it give away spoilers? I’ve seen these types of book review ish descriptions on Goodreads and they often give away half the story before you even read it. However grand that little description is, I prefer more unknowns than knowns when I begin reading. Fantastic advice and post though. I wonder if I could adapt it for an entire series?? Hm

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      No, it’s not necessarily something to share. (I’m only doing so as an example for the post.) It’s only something to help *you* better boil down and understand your ideal vision for the story you’re trying to create.

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