Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring Cleaning Your Manuscript: Thirteen Considerations

Happy first day of Spring! I’ve been studying seed catalogs and munching chocolate eggs waiting for spring and now, spring’s arrival is official. Along with the baseball season beginning, robins returning and lawns greening, spring is our signal to open the windows, shake out our rugs, sweep the garage and sort through closets.

It’s spring-cleaning time!

Almost anything can be tidied up. That includes our manuscripts. Here are 13 tips to help you get the cobwebs out of those manuscripts gathering dust in your desk drawers.

Spring Cleaning your manuscript: 13 Considerations

1. Just as you go through closets and remove out-of-style clothes, search through your manuscript and eliminate unnecessary adverbs. You’ll usually find the adverbs linked up with weak verbs.

2. Replace weak verbs with stronger ones. Ted rocketed around the bases reads better than Ted ran fast around the bases.

3. Get rid of adjective strings. For example: You might change “Mary threw the light reddish ball” to “Mary threw the pink ball.”

4. Ask yourself: Is there a simpler way I can say this? Sometimes one word can replace a whole phrase. For example in a manuscript, I mentioned the white part of a person’s eye. Later, with research, I discovered there’s a word for it, sclera. Using sclera got rid of a bit of wordiness.

5. Change passive sentences into active sentences. Make sure someone is doing the action in your sentences. “Frank stole the cookies” sounds infinitely better than “The cookies were stolen by Frank.”

6. Remember those comfy old slippers you love wearing around the house? The fuchsia faux fur has turned a dull gray rose and the sole flaps at the toes. They don’t enhance your image, but you adore them. Likewise many writers have pet words that don’t add to their manuscripts. Find out what tend to be yours and put them out with the trash. Here’s a few common ones: only, just, that, okay, all right, and, and then.

7. Check your pronouns. Is it clear who/what you’re referring to? Juan and Jose scrambled for the sword. He got it and swung, parting his fingers from his left hand. Readers needs to know who got the sword and whose fingers are now on the floor. You as the author should be able to convey the scene from your head to the paper without confusing the reader.

8. Look for redundancies. Areas where you’ve restated something. For example: His fist clenched, Ron yelled, “I’m so angry!” His face was a mask of fury. Ron was mad. Why state the obvious? It annoys the reader.

9. Ever repair a shattered vase? You have to make sure the pieces fit together well before you can successfully glue your vase together. Good writing is like that. Things need to follow in a logical order. In other words, keep the cart behind the horse that’s pulling it. Make sure reactions are in the right sequence. Passages like this one can confuse readers. “Ahmad ducked as he covered his ears. Bang! John dropped his gun. “Look out,” John cried. The chambered bullet shot from the barrel.

10. Follow the one-thing-at-a-time rule. If you pull out all the stuff in your closets at once, you’ll have a mess. That same mayhem happens when you throw too much at your characters before they can react. You get a rumble like this: “Tied to the railroad track as Engine 109 sped toward her, Penelope considered Dustin’s proposal and remembered the time he’d kissed her on their first date. How luscious his lips had tasted after he bought her a sassafras at the salon. She said, ‘Yes, I’d be happy to be your wife, if you’d just untie my hands before the train arrives.’ ”

These complex situations baffle the best of us. Here’s how the same scene might read one stimulus at time.

The tracks rumbled as Engine 109 sped toward her. Penelope wriggled her fingers, trying to free herself. Dustin ran over.
“Help, Dustin!”
“Only if you marry me,” Dustin said with a smirk. Without waiting for her answer, he knelt, opened his pocket knife and cut through Penelope’s bonds.
She rolled off the track. Gathering her in his arms, Dustin kissed her.
Penelope tasted sassafras on his luscious lips. “Of course I’ll marry you. I’ve wanted to since our first date.”
Engine 109’s horn blew, as it swept past.

When re-reading your work, ask yourself: Does this reaction follow this event logically? Rearrange if necessary.

11. Look for clichés like “quiet as a mouse,” “fat as a pig,” “big as a house,” and see if you can rework them using your own comparisons. If you can’t, cut them from your piece.

12. Spell Check. If you use the computer’s spell check, great, but remember to re-read your manuscript to make sure the computer’s changes make sense. Don’t just accept all.

13. On one of your edits through your manuscript, read it aloud as though you’re performing the piece at a coffee-shop read-in. You’d be surprised what you might be able to spot and correct. The ear edits almost as well as the eye.

Well, that’s my 13 suggestions for spring-cleaning your manuscript -- and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I bet you think of more. Come on, make a suggestion or two. Thanks and Happy First Day of Spring!

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  1. These are great suggestions! I know someone who does a search for "ly" specifically (heh) to weed out adverbs (not that those are the only adverbs, but it's a good number of them).

    Reading aloud makes a huge difference, too--no matter how thorough I've been, I always find something more to fix when I read a scene aloud.

  2. Wow...that would be really hard. I only write my blog...not novels. I would find it difficult to be that objective about my own writing.

  3. Excellent suggestions, and list idea :) Happy TT and thanks so much for stopping by :)

  4. Great list of suggestions. I think human spell checking is the only way. Find a non-writer to do it!

  5. One of my favorites is to throw it in a drawer for a month or two, so you come back to it with fresh eyes. You pick up a LOT that can be fixed that way.

  6. Great list! It always helps to be ruthless to your manuscript before sending it to your editor.

  7. Great list - really. Wonderful suggestions too! I hate those pesky adverbs - hate them. ;)

    Happy TT!

  8. Now, this is a great way to view "spring cleaning". *wg* Happy T13!

  9. Thanks for stopping by Small Reflections and leaving a comment on my T-13 so I could follow the link back here. These are excellent suggestions! Thanks for sharing them in your T-13 today!.
    Hugs and blessings,

  10. I don't have a manuscript, just a blog but I think I can apply many of those suggestions. Thanks. What I really need to Spring clean is my house:)

  11. These are good ideas. Oh how I wish I was an author. Happy TT and thanks for visiting me.

  12. Thanks for stopping by, Brenda! I'm definitely hoping to do NaNo again this year.

    Great list of things to look for. Why is it line edits are easy for me but seeing if the bigger picture clicks is so much harder? It's so easy to say "Does all this move the plot forward?" but actually telling if it does... meh.

    Happy TT!

  13. Good advice. Thanks for sharing. Happy TT.

  14. Great suggestions. I hate reading outloud simply b/c I always find errors (duh!) Anyway great list.
    Happy Spring!

  15. Love your list. My problem is that I love adverbs - my cp's have to beat me over the head to make me give them up.

    Yay, spring is almost here!

    Happy TT!

  16. Oh, heavens. #6. I struggle against the use of "just" and the ever popular "Well," "So," and "Anyway," in my prose. I always have to go back and check to see if I've gone and used them.

    Happy TT and thanks for the tips.

  17. Wow,what a great list. I only write a blog and emails but I really liked your list.

  18. What a great post. I need to print this out and paste it to my wall as I write.


  19. Excellent list! A definite keeper!


  20. I can't even imagine writing a novel...Hat's off to ya'!

  21. Some awesome advice here. I definitely second Susan's idea of putting the manuscript away for a few weeks. Fresh eyes make all the difference.

  22. Nice suggestions Brenda, and i don't even have to use a mop!

  23. "Just" is my worn-out pair of bunny slippers. Sigh. It's just such a little word! Happy TT!

  24. I am already happy when I find the words in my dictionary and write without mistakes, lol !

  25. This is a fantastic post! These are so true, and it is a great idea to pull out old pieces and freshen them up. They will only get better each time you do. I am totally with you on the ears editing as well (and sometimes better than) the eye. Especially a tired eye that has looked over it countless times. Also - the pet words is sooo true & you don't know it until someone points it out! All of these are great advice though. Thanks!

  26. Phew! Kiddo - you are a maniac! The only thing I am going to clean out of my manuscript is the bottle of Mamertino my dearly departed father left in the file cabinet! No, seriously kid - and mind you, this is a rarity - I am seldon serious, you have written one great peice! Man! I wish I had written this one!