By Gloria G. Adams
Editing a manuscript is part of the writing process. But isn’t that the job of an editor or agent? Absolutely. But first you have to sell your manuscript to one of them. Give yourself a better chance by taking the time to do some editing yourself before you send that manuscript out.
1. Cross-examine your main character. What does he/she want in your story? How bad does he/she want it? What is his/her motivation? Have you conveyed your main character’s feelings strongly enough to make the reader want what he/she wants? Is his/her voice consistent? Is he or she too perfect? What is he/she afraid of? What things make him/her angry? frustrated? happy? sad?
2. Amp up your language. Are you using too many passive verbs? Read through your whole manuscript, searching for weak or passive verbs. Replace as many as you can with stronger ones. Get rid of any overused clichés. Look for “-ly” adverbs (She whispered quietly, he yelled loudly.) Ditch as many as you can. Re-examine your descriptions; can you make them better?
3. Polish your plot. Have you forgotten any plot elements? Is there a problem to solve? A goal to reach? What do your characters do to solve that problem? When they solve it, what has changed? Does your story have a satisfying ending? Does the conclusion happen too abruptly? Does it make sense?
4. Don’t rely on Spellcheck. While Spellcheck can be useful, it is not always helpful. Check spelling yourself, as well as grammar. Have someone else look it over for you for spelling or grammar mistakes.
5. Keep that back story sparse. Do you really need the reader to know every single detail about that flower that is growing beneath the window where your main character lives? Does it have anything to do with your story? If not, you really don’t need it. If it’s crucial to your story, leave it in. Apply this test to everything in your back story. If it’s necessary, find a way to let your readers know, but don’t make your back story so long and detail-filled that you lose them.
6. Dialogue. Examine every scene. Does the reader always know who is speaking? Have you used dialogue to show what your characters look like, what their personalities are, what action they have taken or are going to take? Can you use it to describe the scene? Check for double tags; eliminate them. (Example of a double tag: Mary turned the crock pot on High, slipped her apron off, and stretched out on the couch. “I’m exhausted,” she said. We don’t need the words “she said” because we already know Mary is the one who is talking.)
7. Check for sensory details. Read through your entire manuscript and see how many of the senses you have used. They can help your reader relate to your characters and add more depth and interest to your story. Almost everyone uses sight, but what about sounds and taste? Look for ways to use them to draw your reader deeper into the book.
8. Be specific. Specific details give a much clearer picture of the world you have created. Don’t just say the child carried a balloon. Say the little girl’s sticky fingers clutched the smooth, white string of a cherry-red balloon. Paint a picture with your words.
9. Be consistent. Make sure you have not changed from past tense to present tense or vice-versa. It can be very easy to do, and to miss, unless you comb carefully through your manuscript. Search for any inconsistencies in your character’s actions. If you’ve told us she’s allergic to peanuts, don’t have her munching on peanut butter sandwiches later on in the story with no consequences. If you’ve created a fantasy or sci-fi world, make sure what you’ve said in one part doesn’t contradict what you say in another.
10. Get critiques from your trusted writer friends. If you don’t already belong to a critique group, join one if possible. Others can spot things you might have missed, or can make suggestions to improve your story.
Two4One Kid Critiques offers a unique service. They offer two critiques instead of one for each client’s manuscript, along with a collaborative summation. Workshops are also available. Check them out at www.two4onekidcritiques.com.