Clean Up Your Manuscript – For Newbies

I am a newbie. OK, I’m not as new a newbie as I was a year ago, but I’m still very new. Working with my crit group, of which there are TWO authors expecting their debut novel on shelves very soon, and through the work I’m doing with an editor turned agent, I am learning some things I never read about in a blog post.

As many of you, I assume, I don’t have a degree in writing. I never took a single course, and it shows. So, I learn by doing and by reading. However, in the couple of years I’ve been researching writing, I never read a word about a couple of mistakes I make frequently. So, in an effort to share the knowledge, here are a couple of unspoken things I’ve learned this year.

1. Remove any unnecessary words. Bloat. I assumed bloat was the detail overload I mentioned yesterday, or the superfluous information which did not propel the story. While that’s true, bloat can also refer to individual words, like “that,” “then,” “and,” etc.

ex: Nikki had never told me that she loved to take bubble baths.

See, both ways are correct, but removing those four extra words makes it flow better, speeds the read. Makes agents happy. Remove all extras. All of them.

2. Contract. Especially in dialog. People speak in contractions, so your dialog should flow that way as well. Skim your manuscript for any place you can contract: have not, did not, I will, he-she-they will, etc. and do it.

3. Compound words. Holy smokes, I think I lost a thousand words during edits when I began to seek out and compound words. They were two words, now only 1 word. My list could go on forever, but here are a few I overlooked: driveway, headband, mailbox, gunpoint, dinnertime.

4. POV. Watch your point of view very very carefully. Especially in third person. I think it’s easier to stay in first person because we think in first person. However, when you write in third person, you can only be one person at a time. You must change scenes to tell your reader something another person is thinking or feeling. We aren’t a narrator like Burl Ives on Frosty, telling the story from some loft perch. So, be careful to only tell what your current POV can know and then switch only if necessary to divulge additional information.

ex: Valerie was bubbling over inside to see Mimi chose the cover of her new novella. She tapped her foot wildly against the floor, waiting to see what decision would come next. Then, Mimi closed her eyes and said a silent prayer as the Vicar’s Vantage cover was finally unveiled.

You just can’t have it both ways. Either you know Mimi prayed or you know Valerie was excited. Read the scene and decided who’s POV you are in and which POV adds more to the story. (That’s a whole post waiting to happen- maybe Thursday).

5. Stop your characters from what they have been doing. Have been and other forms of be are a manuscript nightmare. They slow the reader down and pull them out of the story faster than my kids can embarrass me at a restaurant.

ex: I had been given three weeks notice.

try: I had three weeks notice.

or: They gave me three weeks notice.

There are plenty of way to ix-nay the avebeen hays.Find and apply them everywhere you can.

Alright, I’m sure there are plenty more awesome writing tips for newbies, and heaven knows I make my share of mistakes, but these are the ones on my mind today.  Feel free to add any others you think of in the comment section.

I hope these tips help. Happy Writing!

12 comments to Clean Up Your Manuscript – For Newbies

  • I don’t re-tweet a lot of posts like this, but I like yours. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Seleste! Thank you so much for the retweet AND the comment! There are just so many little things a writer can’t possibly know without being told. Hopefully one of my tips will help another newbie clean up their woopsies :)

  • Great post Julie!! Your wisdom is now our wisdom :)

  • Valerie Haight

    You are looking at my pic when you type this aren’t you? I feel like I’m in church and the preacher is staring at me, speaking DIRECTLY to me! Just kidding. I’m very grateful for your lessons! Lord knows I need them.

  • And alas, never forget the dreaded words writers hate reading in their critiques. SHOW don’t TELL. Easier said than done, believe you me. And it takes a lot of practice. It’s a hell of a lot easier to tell than show, but your readers will thank you for all the showing. Every time I rec’d a crit and it said ‘You need to show more.’ I screemed at the screen saying ‘I did show it!’ but the crit was always right. It wasn’t shown. I could go on and on about show vs. tell, but I think you get the point.

    Great post, Julie! Thanks for sharing.

    C xx

  • Julie Anne Lindsey

    Angela! Thank you :)

    Valerie!! You always do an amazing job. I have to nit pic to be useful to you!

    Cathleen! I am learning SOOO much from you!! and Show don’t Tell gets us all!! LOL

  • Thank you thank you for sharing this! Great tips!!!

  • Love this post! I’m sure my first draft is riddled with each and every one of these. Thanks.

  • Alaina! Thanks for the comment!

    Marieke! Thank you!

    Julie! Love seeing other writers here! Thanks for your comment!

  • Julie,
    I’m sure Mimi did more than pray for her book to be chosen. Bribing comes to mind as a more likely way to get HIS attention… e.g. encouraging the priesthood for her first-born, a huge contribution to the next church bazaar, etc.

    Seriously, loved the blog and thought I’d add something serious for a change. I remember going to a class taught by author, Bonnie Spidle, and she taught me more in the first class than I’d learnt by taking a multitude of workshops. She made me understand, once and for all, what the heck POV meant. Here’s me sharing…
    If you’re POV character can’t hear, see, taste, touch or feel it themselves, then you can’t use it. By keeping that in the back of your mind when you read over your work, it becomes pretty darn clear what can be left in and what has to be taken out. The only tricks around that statement that I know of are through dialogue, or actions that the POV character can decipher easily by watching and surmising.
    If anyone else knows another way around it, please share…! Really…please!


  • Christie

    Verrrrry good advice! Thank you! Good read.

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