Don’t miss these in your manuscript
Once you finish your novel, you should put it away for a few weeks so that you are fresh when you come back to edit it. Having that distance will allow you to look at your book with new eyes and catch mistakes that you might miss otherwise. I know when I’m reading over a paragraph for the nine hundredth time, I’ll read the words that I think are there and not the ones that are actually there. For example, if you read a fresh draft of mine you may find missing words or a their/there/they’re-type error in some sentences.
When you’re ready to go through your manuscript, always use spell and grammar check. But keep in mind that the grammar check isn’t always correct. When in doubt, look it up in Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, or your style manual of choice. But going beyond that, here are five things that you don’t want in your manuscript:
1. The wrong beginning.
You want to start as close to the action as possible. Don’t waste the opening chapter on backstory or what the character is doing in their average day. Never start out with a character waking up from a dream. This is almost always an automatic rejection from an agent or an editor because it’s been done so many times. Also, reconsider your prologue. Most agents and editors dislike them because it delays getting to the story.
2. Boring parts.
Every chapter, every scene must pull its own weight in a novel. New York Times bestselling author Cherry Adair asks, “What is the purpose of this chapter?” when she edits her work. If it doesn’t forward the plot or relate to the characters’ story arcs, it gets cut. This can be ruthless because you can wind up cutting some great prose, but unless it furthers the story it doesn’t belong in the novel. Western writer Elmore Leonard is known for his amazing characters like Chili Palmer (Get Shorty) and Raylan Givens (Justified). His advice is to “try and leave out the parts that readers skip,” and mentions that readers generally don’t skip dialog, but they usually skip long paragraphs.
3. Stilted and/or meaningless dialogue
Listening to people talk and taking notes, is an excellent way to get the rhythm of the language and conversation. However, you wouldn’t want to use most conversations in your novel. Take for example, two friends meeting in the grocery store. Their exchange probably goes something like this:
“I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“I know. Where does the time go? How’s Fred?”
“He’s good. What about Doug?”
“Working hard. You know how it is.”
This is a believable conversation that you’ve probably overheard or participated in something similar many times. But it doesn’t belong in your novel. It doesn’t tell us anything about either woman or very much about the story. Skip to the good stuff, like Doug cheating on her or Fred running for mayor.
But that’s not to say that you don’t want to pay attention to how people talk. I recommend reading your dialogue aloud until you get an ear for it. For example:
“Hello, Fred. How are the wife and kids?”
“They are very well, Doug. I am going to have a barbecue on Saturday. Would you and your lovely family like to join us?”
“I’m sorry, Fred. I have to work.”
This sounds very stiff and formal when you read it aloud. You can take out some words and use contractions to make it flow better. For example:
“Hello, Fred. How’s everyone?”
“Doug! Long time no see. We’re all doing good. I’m barbecuing Saturday to promote my campaign for mayor. Want to come over? Get the wives and kids together?
“No can do. I gotta work.”
“Work? Or take that cute little secretary of yours on a day trip?”
You get some idea of the men’s personalities in how they speak and some story information as well.
4. Clichés and/or trite phrases.
Don’t say, “his blood boiled.” Show him being angry. Don’t have her laugh “like a hyena” or “bray like a donkey.” Use a different simile that no one has heard before like, “a demented monkey who had just snorted a line of Altoids.” Don’t have the butler be the murderer, unless you give the reader something new about that old trope.
5. Weak verbs and/or too many (or any!) adverbs
Unless your character is being stopped mid action, say “walked” instead of “began walking.” Don’t have them run really fast. Have them sprint. Do a find search for “ly” and take a look at all your adverbs. Is there a better verb you can use? If so swap it out.
After a few times doing this, changes like these will become second nature and you’ll find yourself checking for these errors as you’re writing.
USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes contemporary love stories and paranormal romances. Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks. Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists and the first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time. Her dragon paranormal romance series from Entangled Publishing, has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.”