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Let’s Get those Manuscripts Ready

Next week, many romance writers will be convening in Orlando for RWA’s annual conference.  Authors will be pitching their work to editors and agents, and a lucky few will be asked to submit full or partial manuscripts.

And that’s when the panic hits.

It’s a wonderful feeling to have an agent or editor request your work, but there is always that moment, after the conference is over and you’re back home, when you know that the work needs a little “polishing.”

So I thought I would provide a little inspiration for everyone who needs to spiff up that manuscript, by sharing a few editing thoughts using examples of my own, poorly written work.

My goal is to: 1) show that everyone makes the same mistakes, and 2) inspire you to seek out the worst and most egregious examples of crappy writing and fix them. . . before you submit your manuscript for evaluation.  So here goes.  Below you’ll find some examples of the worst writing ever, and how I fixed it.

POINT OF VIEW MISTAKES

I write deep third person, which is sort of like first person but without the I.  That means I’m forever trying to get out of my own way.  Here are a few examples of how I failed by inserting extraneous words and phrases that did nothing but distance the point of view.

 

First Draft: Even across the room she could feel the heat coming off his body in waves. She was not immune, but she damn well wanted to be. Guys like Matthew Lyndon should be locked away to prevent them from breaking too many hearts.

Edited Version: Heat rolled off his body in waves that reached her even across the room.  Damn.  Guys like Matthew Lyndon should be locked away to prevent them from breaking too many hearts.

In this edit, I removed the words “she could feel,” because it was unnecessary.  Here are a few more examples of subtle point of view problems:

 

First Draft: She watched the bartender as he moved down the bar and chatted with a group of guys at the corner.

Edited Version: The bartender moved down the bar and chatted with a group of guys at the corner.

 

First Draft: He ached to talk with her, to share his own story of high school rejection.  But he resisted that temptation.  He understood her trust issues since they mirrored his.

Revised Version:  He ached to talk with her, to share his own story of high school rejection.  But he resisted that temptation because her trust issues mirrored his own.

 

BEWARE THE MIND READER

Sometimes when writing deep third person, my point of view character will know something that make him/her a mind reader, or worse, like she’s mysteriously entered another character’s mind.  Here’s an example:

First Draft (not in Allison’s point of view): The bride looked back toward the window.  Allison wasn’t enjoying the view of the parking lot.

Revised Version: The bride looked back toward the window, which provided a beautiful view…of the parking lot.

By putting in the ellipsis I convey the point of view character’s snark about the ugly view, without sending the reader on a head-bopping journey.

ECHOES

It’s amazing how many times I can inadvertently repeat words in a sentence or paragraph. An event that inevitably leads to truly awful prose.  Some examples:

First Draft:  The situation made him feel powerless. So, after work, he headed directly to the Jaybird Café.  He needed a diversion, and the moment he walked into the bar and saw Courtney sitting at the bar with Ryan Pierce he knew precisely what sort of diversion he needed.

Revised Draft: Matt couldn’t stop the inevitable.  So after work, he headed directly to the Jaybird Café looking for a diversion.  He found it in the person of Courtney Wallace, who was sitting at the bar with Ryan Pierce.   

In this rewrite I fixed two echoes (YIKES!) and the point of view issues.

PASSIVE VOICE AND THE VERB “TO BE”

Like everyone, I sometimes fall into the habit of using passive voice.  I also have horrible paragraphs in which I repeat some version of the verb “to be” a zillion times.  Passive voice and overusing the verb “was” are not the same thing, but they can both lead to awful writing.  Here are some examples:

First draft: The landlord was given written notice of the repairs needed, and given only thirty days to affect them. And now, forty days later, hefty fines and a lien had been placed on the property.

Revised draft: The county notified the landlord of the repairs needed.  Anderson was given thirty days to effect them, but he failed to respond.  Forty days later, the government fined him and placed a lien on the property.

The revision fixes: 1) the echo (given) was removed, 2) Two examples of passive voice were removed, but not the third, and 3) the common spelling error (affect vs. effect) was corrected.

And here’s an example that contains no passive voice, but it overdoes the verbs was and were.

First Draft:  “Matthew was dorky?”  How was that possible.  The guy was movie-star handsome.  All the Lyndons were movie-star handsome.  The Lyndons didn’t do dorky.

Revised Draft: “Matthew was dorky?”  How was that possible?  The Lyndon family produced only movie-star handsome progeny. They didn’t do dorky.

Polishing a manuscripts is part of the job of being a conscientious writer.  And boy, do my first drafts suck!  In fact, I would say that I spend more time editing and polishing my stories than I do in actually writing them. 

Want to help and inspire others?  Share your own editing and manuscript polishing ideas, techniques, and examples in the comments below.

And good luck with those RWA pitches!

8 responses to “Let’s Get those Manuscripts Ready”

  1. Vivi Andrews says:

    Excellent advice, Hope. I know I fall prey to all of these mistakes. Good reminders. 🙂

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  2. Well, you inspired me, even as I write the first draft of the next novel I’ll keep these editing tips in mind.

    Thanks, Hope. As always excellent advice.

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  3. Eris Field says:

    Very helpful. I try to catch repetition of words such as pulled, paced, and nodded as I go over the day’s work but it takes three or more deep readings to pick up other errors.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Great advice, as always, Hope. Been trying to tighten up all morning…& remove some of the echoes.

    I’ll toss out an example…& if it could be tighter, I’m open for suggestions:)

    First Draft: All of this would have to wait until later…maybe even until the week-end after school was out. I went inside. Now I was going to talk to Mom and Gram to find out why they didn’t want me saying anything to Matt’s parents.

    Revised Draft: All of this would have to wait until later. I went inside. I was going to talk to Mom and Gram to find out why they didn’t want me saying anything to Matt’s parents.

    Thanks for the reminders!

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  5. Excellent advice, Hope. I always tell people I’m not a writer but a re-writer. 🙂

    For me, polishing a manuscript is all about tightening and trimming. One of my fave tips: Delete redundancies and unnecessary words. For example,

    “sit down” should be “sit”
    “armed gunman” should be “gunman”

    And a gentle reminder that a major red flag to an editor demonstrating lack of craft is the use of NVUs. NVU = Not a Verb of Utterance. For example,

    “What a dork,” she laughed.

    should be

    “What a dork,” she said.

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  6. I’m glad that you left in one of the passive voice sentences in the example. I agree that active is better than passive–when it’s right for the sentence. but sometimes it makes sense to leave a sentence in passive voice.

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  7. Liz Talley says:

    These hints are fantastic. Off to share with friends:)

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  8. Elisa Beatty says:

    Awesome examples, Hope! Weeding out the “she felt” and “he watched” lines makes a huge difference in bringing the reader straight into the character’s POv.

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