I've worked with several critique partners and newbie writers over the years, and recently I decided I would enjoy working with writers to polish their manuscripts. So I took an editing job. When I was starting writing, taking workshops and struggling to get a handle on the craft of writing. I gobbled up any bits of information the more experienced writers offered. Even after selling over twenty manuscripts, I continue to learn from my editors and a few great friends who will offer me feedback.
Today I'd love to share with you the top three mistakes I commonly find while editing manuscripts.
Mistake #1: Overuse of a good thing
Whether it's a word, an action, a cool phrase or a punctuation, overkill is bad. I once read a novel by a VERY popular bestselling author where each page was riddled with the use of the word "dark". I mean, two or three instances per page through the entire book. Needless to say, it became a joke with me. "His dark secrets filled her with dark longing. The darkness inside him was relentless..." You get the point. As writers we often get hooked on a word and overuse it, and as far as I'm concerned, the problem in this particular book wasn't the author's--the editor should have caught the 849 occurrences of that word before it went to print.
How to fix it: go to http://www.wordle.net and paste your manuscript into the box there. It will generate a word cloud for you of the most often-used words. Instantly you'll see if you've used the word "back" too much (this once happened to me--used 320 times. Needless to say, I think very carefully before typing that word now!)
*Using Wordle will help catch your overused phrases and even tell you if you're writing in a passive voice by using "was" too much. But it won't see that you've used the semi-colon seven times on a single page. If you're a semi-colon, colon or em dash offenders, you might have to catch that yourself by looking at a printed page.
Mistake #2: Unusual names and misspellings
Some people enjoy interesting names. I'm one of them, and this is an offense I commit occasionally. In fact I recently had a writing partner knock me down a peg about my name choice for my hero. Basically having an interesting name is good--but two interesting names isn't. A name that sounds too exotic in a contemporary suspense might throw a reader or sound hokey. So unless you're writing fantasy, save the far-out for something very special. And for the love of angels, don't spell the name one way on the first pages and then switch up spellings later!
How to fix it: Do a search/find for your name and make sure all instances are spelled the same. This actually drives me wild when editing a manuscript for another author--if YOU can't remember your cahracters' names, why would the reader want to?
Also, look through baby name sites online for interesting but easy-to-read or pronounce names. When choosing a last name, I often grab my phone book and leaf through it . Adding a more common last name such as White or Johnson to an unusual first name will provide much-needed balance.
Mistakes #3: Overuse of the same sentence structure
Here's an example: The evil knight put his head down and charged The Princess Wartesia like a bull, hitting her full force. She gasped and fell, knocking the wind from her. He continued toward her, raising his fist. She cowered against the flagstones, crying and trembling. His feet drummed near, giving her the impression that he would surely kill her.
See anything that sticks out to you in this passage? Like words ending in -ing? All those little words that modify what the noun in the sentence is doing are fine, but the same structure over and over again becomes dull for the reader.
How to fix it: Play with sentence structure. Read a passage that your favorite author has written and see how he/she crafts sentences. If I come across an interesting flow in a sentence, I often study it more thoroughly, even syllables to dissect what makes it work so well for the author.
*There's one more problem in that example above. Do you see it? The glaring name "Wartesia". This another no-no as far as I'm concerned--using names or spellings that cause a huge grin to break over a reader's face when the writer intended something much different. Unless The Princess Wartesia is an antagonist in a children's book, you need to find a different name.
I hope some of these tips will help you to polish your next manuscript! Thanks for reading and feel free to ask questions. I'd love to hear from you!
~where words mean so much more~