Thursday, October 13, 2011

What do you mean I have to edit my manuscript? It's perfect!

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Findler

I don't usually create a formal editorial letter for my clients' works but I tend to make comments throughout the manuscript with both constructive criticism as well as praise for things I've loved. Before sending your manuscript to agents, editors, publishers, give it a quick once-over for these common editorial missteps:
  1. That and Which - I despise these words. I use them sparingly in my own writing and speech as I consider them unnecessary most of the time. If you're trying to tighten your manuscript, removing these words is a great first step. Read the next sentence and tell me if you need the word.
    • Sara knew that she would get more from Adam if she softened her words. 
    • Now re-read the sentence without the word: Sara knew she would get more from Adam if she softened her words. Did you even notice the word was gone? Probably not. Before submitting your manuscript, go through and remove these superfluous words.
  2. Repetitive Words are Repetitive - Remove and/or change similar words in a paragraph if they appear more than once. Definitely remove them when repeating in a sentence (unless it's necessary for dialogue, inflection or characterization). 
    • Example: Carmela was lost in thought watching the waves roll in, her weapon tucked safely against her thigh. The pounding of the rolling waves made a soundtrack to the rolling memories of the previous night. Are your eyes rolling yet? If I read one more "roll" in this paragraph, I'd roll someone's head off their shoulders! 
    • Rephrase: Watching the waves roll in, Carmela was lost in thought. With her weapon tucked safely against her thigh, she let her mind drift to thoughts of the previous night, finding the sound of the waves pounding the rocks below her a fitting soundtrack. Or something along those lines. I just threw these sentences together but you get the idea.
  3. Passive Voice is Not your Friend - Don't use it. Period. If your character is always getting ready to perhaps do something, maybe... you're going to anger your reader and annoy your agent/editor. Passive voice also leads to "telling" and "telling" leads to the Dark Side of the force.
    • Example:  The enormous picture window was broken in the struggle. (Thanks @ashlynkane who provided the example.)
    • Rephrase: The enormous picture window broke in the struggle. This is probably a poor example of a rephrase as the context of the paragraph may lend to rewriting the sentence altogether: In the struggle for control of the weapon, a single shot pierced the glass of the enormous picture window in the corner.
  4. To Prologue or Not to Prologue - It doesn't matter to me whether you have a prologue or not. I know some editors and agents prefer to either have or not have them (most I know prefer NOT to have them) but it really doesn't matter to me if it works with the context of the story. Don't call your first chapter a prologue if it doesn't give necessary insight into a character's past, for example. Don't label your prologue, Chapter 1 if it's really the start of the story.
  5. Hook, hook, where's the hook? - If your hook is as buried in your manuscript as this section in this blog post, you're doing it wrong. Your hook should capture the reader and "hook" them in. Your story should engage the reader and keep them turning those pages from the first. If your hook is buried in the second chapter, you've lost the opportunity to keep the reader reading. In some instances, if your hook is not on the first page, you've already lost me.