I've given a draft of my work-in-progress to a trusted brain to read. This will be the first time anybody but me has read any of this story.
I started planning it more than two years ago. I started writing the first draft on January 7th, 2014. I finished the first draft on November 20th and since then I've done some extensive re-writing, but nowhere near enough to be finished.
There's still several weeks of editing and rewriting to be done, but to carry on productively, I need a trusted brain to tell me the answers to some big questions. For example:
Does it make sense?
When you've been working on one story for so long it's very easy to lose sight of what will be clear or obvious to the first time reader and what needs elaboration. But of course, everybody who reads the book will be a first time reader once. So it has to make sense, sentence by sentence and also on a larger scale across the whole plot.
Is it exciting?
I think this applies no matter what genre you write. Every page should be enticing, gripping or make you want to read on. So I'm not just talking about action sequences and twists in thrillers. Even scenes in which nobody moves a muscle should be exciting. (Don't mistake movement for 'action' or motion for emotion.) In other words, I'm asking where the tension slackens. Are there bits where you can do anything other than grip the book in your fists and devour it because you just have to know what happens next?
At any point, does any of the characters act like an idiot?
This is a huge one. Forget whether your characters are 'likeable' or 'relate-able' or any nonsense like that. What you don't want is any point in the story where your reader says something that begins, "Why doesn't he just...?"
Or, even worse: "What?! Well if he thinks that's a good idea, he deserves everything coming to him."
If you haven't thought of the thing the character should be doing, you need to know your readers will think of it and so your character should too. If there's a good reason why your character doesn't do that thing, you need to show that.
The one thing that switches a reader off more than anything else is a character acting like an idiot when there's an obvious, or even moderately intelligent, course of action that they either haven't thought of, or they've dismissed for a shaky reason. This goes for EVERY character, not just your hero or heroine. Good guys, bad guys, little guys... EVERYBODY.
I'll get lots of other feedback, I know. But the first time somebody else reads through a complete draft of my book, these are the three main questions I need answered for every page.
If you're working on something and you've reached the point of sharing it with someone else for the first time, I recommend you ask these questions too.