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  • Writer's pictureDianne McCartney

Striking Down the Enemy

Five things that threaten a successful manuscript.

1. Be merciless about repetition. The worst offenders are: was, were, just, that and said. It helps if you highlight them all so that they scream, “Change me, change me.” If you don’t bother to make these changes, it will affect your pacing.

2. Passive language. Don’t ever say, “She was jumping,” when you could say, “She jumped.” You want the reader to enjoy the active picture your book offers. Picture your words as if they were part of a movie and match the level of action you would find there.

3. Flat characters. Every character, primary or secondary, needs definition. It’s not just hair and eye color, it’s how they move and speak. And, please, don’t make them perfect. Flaws are part of what connects us as humans. You want your readers to bond with your characters.

4. Vary the length of your sentences. There is a noticeable beat to good writing that is almost musical. You deliver that by providing a rhythm. Having sentences the same length sounds stilted to the ear. Avoid the dreaded run-on sentence that is four lines long, because your reader will nod off.

5. For dialogue, think about how people actually speak. When judging manuscripts, I often find that authors will use long-winded speeches, rather than interactive dialogue with shorter sentences. Unless you are trying to show that a character is boring, avoid allowing them to ramble on. Also, consider how your setting and the character’s level of education might dictate how they speak. This helps your characters come to life.

If you aren’t used to editing your own manuscripts, you can do each of these steps separately so it isn’t overwhelming. Sooner or later, your brain will catch them all and reduce the number of editing steps.

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