7 Common Manuscript Problems

Please, I’m not perfect. I don’t claim to be a fiction editor. I have worked editing nonfiction, but NF is a completely different animal.

BUT... I have a scientist’s eye. I zoom in on patterns, and look for things falling outside the norm. I created this list because these are issues I address everyday in comment boxes on writing websites. I hope it helps.

The examples are pulled from my book, "Genni’s Box". I didn’t want be accused of calling anyone out.

Word Dependency

Every writer has a word or a set of words they use excessively. The most common words I find are: Had and That . . . on a lesser scale: Was and As.

I believe people need a reason to make changes. Why are these words a problem?

~ Had ~

(Had) has its place, but it's often not needed. The problem with (had) is it rips the reader out of the moment. It’s always better to let the reader live in the moment. The worst is (had had). I won't even go there.

Sometimes all you need to do is suggest a flashback, or use “had” once at the beginning of a paragraph, then go into the moment. Example:

“He had imagined this moment many times over the past few weeks, but he had never expected she would start with a question.”

Better without (had):

“He imagined this moment many times over the past few weeks, but he never expected she would start with a question.”

~ That ~

(That) is extra bulk in any MS. When you read your material and see (that) ask, “Is (that) needed?” I’ve seen manuscripts with so much of (that) I bet (that) makes for 1/8 of the word count. Where to cut here?

“The most damaging article claimed that Genni molested a young woman while an employee held her down. Trevor knew exactly where that story came from, but denied that he ever heard about the incident.”

Minus 3 (that’s) and a he:

“The most damaging article claimed Genni molested a young woman while an employee held her down. Trevor knew exactly where the story came from, but denied ever hearing about the incident.”

~ Was ~

Not so simple to explain is the “show “vs. “tell theory. However, if (was) is part of the sentence it could be a tell all. Examples of all tell:

“The receptionist was staring. It was making him uncomfortable. He was wondering if she knew something.”

Better:

“The receptionist stared. It made him uncomfortable. He wondered if she knew something.”

Best, I think. But remember, I’m great at spotting problems. It’s up to you guys to fix them:

The receptionist would type awhile, glance up, smile, then go back to her keyboard. Does she know something?”

~ As ~

As much as I’d like to say (as) is an innocuous word, seeing it dozens of times on one page gets to be … well, as mind boggling as a flock of starlings. As I continue, think about it. Can your MS be as clear from clutter as it can be?

Split Personalities

I don't mind books where there’s a multiple POV, but one specific type of switch pulls me right out of the story. There may be a technical term for it. I call it switching from a character’s POV to a narrator’s voice. It can be very disruptive. Example:

Bad Switch:

“His job for the interview; act relaxed, play dumb, don’t get too technical. Relaxed would be a stretch. Dumb wouldn’t be hard considering he felt pretty stupid sitting there letting the publicity team pick him apart. As for too technical? Trevor had the ability to make an intelligent statement, he just refused to use it.”

No Switch:

“His job for the interview; act relaxed, play dumb, don’t get too technical. Relaxed would be a stretch. Dumb wouldn’t be hard considering he felt pretty stupid sitting there letting the publicity team pick him apart. As for too technical? Sure he could blow the nation away with his technical theories, but why? It would be a waste of his time.”

Warning Labels

I like a little warning when a scene changes. Think fade to black in movies. You can create a break, using *** ~~~ >><< there are a million ways to do this. My favorite label:

"The surgery would be kept quiet."

>><<

"Trevor waited until a few days before Jenny’s birthday to break the news to Claire."

Stuttering

Sometimes, we write, like we talk. We add pauses, and pitch changes, similar, to our speech. But, in writing, too many comas, chops everything to pieces. Am I clear?

Empty Calories

There’s a time and place for everything. If I picked up a book with a review stating, “Fine, lyrical pose. I could smell the roses in this English garden setting.” First, I would know it’s not for me. Second, I would not suspect it was a thriller.

Excessive description keeps readers from the action. Readers of thrillers want action, not long cleverly crafted descriptions of how dark and stormy it is. Horror readers want gore, not eight pages of going through the day of character destined to be eaten.

Not to say there isn’t room for description in any genre, small touches are great, but carefully choose when and where. I don’t have any examples of this since it’s not my thingSmile

Chunk Junk Format

In school, most people were taught 8-10 sentences make a paragraph. But in the age of twitter, audiences don't have the patience. Even print editors realize there is a shift in the reader climate.

We've all seen these gigantic blocks of text. They hurt the eyes. Please, break up paragraphs into three, or at the most, four sentences if you’re going for a mainstream audience. If you’re going for a great literary work, do what you want.

Work (ing) Properly

This is not a fix for all "ing" problems, but it's a start without intimidating grammar words like,  participles and a gerund. Simply put . . . "ing" words imply concurrence.

"Remembering something important, he shared it with the doctor"

How can he be remembering while sharing it with the doctor? Quick fix:

"He remembered something important and shared it with the doctor."

>><<

Okay folks, I’m sure I will get shredded to pieces by the grammar snobs somewhere along the way. I don’t care . . . this is basic stuff driving me crazy on a daily basis. If I've reached one person, great!

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