Dennis Lehane gave a terrific keynote speech at Sleuthfest on Saturday, in which he listed ten questions to ask about your mystery manuscript.
1. Does your story start on page one? Stories should begin at the first action.
2. Does the main character act soon enough? Stasis early in a novel is death.
3. Does the main character have a recognizable want? A clear want leads to action, which leads to the revelation of character.
4. Does the main character have a recognizable need? A need is theme, a want is plot.
5. Do the actions of the main character seem believable and authentic?
6. Does the protagonist go on a journey which leads to an epiphany? The story is the journey-- the plot is the car you drive on the journey.
7. Do the events in the story have dramatic inevitability?
8. Is something at stake-- for example, a piece of the main character's soul?
9. Have you written the book you want to read? A book of mortal event, with big dire action that leads to big dire consequences?
10. When in doubt, just telling the f---ing story.