Posted on February 7, 2013 - by Dawn Ford
The first time I edited my finished manuscript, I determined to make my manuscript sleek and clean. I reached out to my writer friends for help on what to look out for. I noticed a pattern in their advice, and declared a word war. Here are some pointers I used to fight that war.
Spelling. Check the spelling of commonly misspelled words such as there, their, and they’re. I have found off where there should have been an of, and vice versa. I use a free text to reader such as Naturalreader and read along while the program speaks the manuscript to me. Never underestimate the power of the spoken word to find errors.
Adjectives. Those delightful, bright, incredible descriptive modifiers that must be used in moderation or not at all. Let your verbs and nouns do the hard work instead of using adjectives.
ING. Words ending in –ing, particularly those at the beginning of sentences which make the sentence a more passive one. Try testing it to see if you can work the sentence without it.
Passive voice. Words such as was, that, were, and had should be scrutinized to see if what you’ve written is too passive. Try removing as many as possible without diminishing your story. You will not be able to remove all of them, but do nix them when you can.
Too much detail. There are some authors who get away with flowery, delightful prose. The other 99% of us must go gentle on those details. Some details may be needed, such as a certain type or style of brick, if that’s important to the house your hero is building. I don’t, however, need to know everything about the brick down to the number on the side of the clay for the brick maker who formed the brick. I have skipped over paragraphs full of beautiful detail so I can get to the heart of the real story. If it happens too often, I give up reading for sheer frustration, after I wonder how the author got published in the first place.
Backstory. Some backstory is needed as your novel unfolds, but it must be pertinent to the events as they happen. Just because little Mickey was injured in a car accident on the darkest night in history when he was two, and he wet the bed until he was twelve, and used a nightlight until he was seventeen, and is still afraid of the dark to this day…is not all pertinent information. To say he was afraid of the dark since the nighttime car accident when he was a toddler should get across what you’re trying to say.
Don’t repeat, restate, reiterate until your characters are blue in the face. My last manuscript I stated my poor servant girl’s worn shoes pinched her feet a couple of times. Okay, maybe more than a couple of times. I stated it once too often, drawing the comments of my crit partners that they realize her shoes pinched, can we move on from this subject? I took it out. Once was enough to make the point. Also, be careful not to use the same word over and over again. In the same manuscript I had my heroine riding in a carriage. There are not many different words to use in place of carriage, so I had to be sure to either describe a different part of the vehicle, or use a different word such as cab. Be careful you’re not being redundant.
And last but not least, clichés. Those phrases that are so commonplace they lose their brilliance. Does your character work like a dog? My dog Snickers actually doesn’t work all that hard, but this phrase is so overused it’s lost its meaning. How about they work like a starving monkey in a banana grove full of ripe bananas? I’ve never heard of that one until now (and as lame as that is, probably never will again, but you get the idea.).
I hope this helps you declare a word war and get your manuscript tight and bright.