Let’s start with the difference between writers and authors. Most authors are writers, but writers aren’t always authors. An author is someone who has had their work published, whether it is in a newspaper, magazine, or a book they’ve written. Journalists, ghostwriters, bloggers, and the like are considered writers because, as the staff at MasterClass say, “Anyone who engages in the writing process, regardless of whether or not their work is published, is technically a writer.”
When I perform manuscript evaluations, there are specific things I look for before the actual editing begins. The elements I talk about in this blog post are crucial for determining whether or not a first-time author needs a manuscript evaluation. Nine times out of ten, a first-time author will need a manuscript evaluation first—before any kind of editing is performed. The information I provide in this blog post will be valuable additions to your self-editing process. If you’re not familiar with Ctrl+F, get ready to learn.
A common problem found in manuscripts of first-time authors is “Mundane Details” (getting out of bed, walking to the kitchen, etc.) These are trivial matters that no reader is going to care about. Note that if minor details in your manuscript don’t support the overall plot, a subplot, or character development, you don’t need it. Once you’ve eliminated these trivial scenes from your manuscript, the story will flow with much more ease.
Example: When characters are leaving a place, there is sometimes build-up in exit scenes. I recommend scrapping some of them and cutting to when your characters have already left, or even cutting to when they reach their destination. I understand that sometimes valuable information is shared when characters depart a place, but the information can easily be conveyed in another scene as well. I feel like these scenes are comparable to a visitor in my home who puts off leaving. They’ll bring up a subject just as they’re walking toward the front door, or they’ll start asking questions that lead to a whole new conversation. We can all agree that sometimes people overstay their welcome, and that is how exit scenes can make readers feel, which is why I recommend scrapping some of them.
The following list items are typically overused in manuscripts of first-time authors.
The word very:
Here is a great video that offers excellent alternatives to descriptions like very sad, very happy, and so on.
The word just:
“It happened just after…” is a great example of what not to do repeatedly. Note that I added accentuation to the word repeatedly. I don’t mean you need to nix every instance of the word just; just don’t do it all the time, especially when the intent of the sentence is the same without it or when you can substitute it for something else. In this case, I recommended that my client substitute the word just with the word right, as in “It happened right after…” It sounds more authentic and rolls off the tongue much easier—which is much better for your readers. And, sometimes you don't need this phrase at all. Just say what happened.
The ellipsis (…):
If your characters are repeatedly trailing off or continually pausing between words, your readers will (a) wonder about the character’s well-being and (b) get tripped up while reading. Nobody wants that.
The exclamation point (!), including doubles (!!) and triples (!!!):
Unless the situation absolutely calls for it—intense battle scenes where the characters are yelling over each other—don’t use an exclamation point. I cannot begin to tell you how many manuscripts I’ve come across that have a plethora of exclamation points. And, just for the record, it is never justified to use multiple exclamation points at the end of a sentence, no matter how upset your character is. One exclamation point will always suffice.
Describing the characters emotions with actions and body language, such as facial expressions and moving their arms, shows your audience how they're feeling. If you want to learn more about "Show, Don't Tell," read my guest blog post on a colleague's website.
The question mark and exclamation point combo (?!) (interrobang):
These only belong in Facebook posts and on other social media platforms—never in your manuscript.
The word then, including he then & she then:
“He then loudly stood up from his chair,” is a great example of what you need to watch for. “He stood up from his chair abruptly, the screeching of the legs against the floor causing everyone in the room to turn his direction and glare,” or something to that effect would create a better visual for your readers.
This is reserved for acronyms and abbreviations. “‘WHAT?!’ he screamed.” Have you ever seen this in a book you’ve read? Me neither. Don’t do it.
I recommend using Ctrl+F for each item above. Read the sentence or scene that each item is found in to determine whether it is truly necessary. Sometimes, replacing a word with a synonym more suitable to the sentence is necessary, and other times, omitting a word altogether is best. Here is a great resource with several other words that writers don’t need in their manuscripts. Feel free to Ctrl+F the words provided in the article I linked and the items listed above.
Please note that there are exceptions to every rule and that each editor has their own way of doing things. My job as an editor is to guide you, not to dictate your writing style.
These are only a few things I keep an eye out for when I am reading a manuscript. I don’t tell my clients “You can’t do that,” though. My advice is much more in-depth and all-encompassing. I cover Areas to Tighten or Cut, if needed, and I explain my reasoning as it pertains to the publishing industry. I have a category called Dialogue that, if needed, offers suggestions on all things dialogue, including tags and action beats. I offer advice on point of view (POV) shifts; character development and description; and general plotting and chronology. There is even a section called Reader Questions, Large & Small, but sometimes I omit this category from a manuscript evaluation if it’s not needed. The same can be said of each aforementioned category, because each assessment is custom-tailored to your manuscript. What works for one story may not work for another.