Polishing Your Manuscript


1. Adverbs. We writers all love them. I know. And they love us. They’re just so easy. You don’t have to show a character being sad in her face or actions. You just put she said sadly. Done. Besides being easy and lazy, adverbs are also great when we’re feeling insecure. Maybe we did go to a great deal of effort to show that our character was sad in both feature and action, but what if the reader doesn’t get it? We better add that adverb just to be sure. And so… With his face drawn into tight lines, John sadly reached for the obituary.

We writers need to cut it out (um, literally). I don’t believe, as some do, that the path to hell is paved with adverbs. But I have noticed as I’ve gone through my (almost) final edit for my book that I often don’t need them. No one needs to “drum her fingers nervously” as the action already shows the nervousness. Nor do you need to “halt suddenly” because halting is usually sudden. And we definitely don’t need to “frown grimly” because who frowns not grimly? In my own editing, I haven’t cut out nearly as many adverbs as I surely probably indubitably definitely could have, but I’ve cut out a boodle, and I think that my writing is cleaner, stronger, and less self conscious because of it.  Losing some adverbs is one of the simplest things you can do to tighten a story up. Try it. See how your dialogue and prose read without them. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how your story can ride on your own without those pesky adverbs weighing it down.

2. Listen. To a boring robotic voice monotoning your book to you. Yes, you should. Why? Because we humans might not notice that “He wore wore the hat.” Or that “She tried jump off the cliff.” Or that “The crowed went wild.” But when a monotoned robot mercilessly reads those phrases to you, you’ll catch a ton of little errors your eyes (and often the eyes of your editor) flew over. Try it. You’ll learn to like it. I used the Alreader app. I’m sure there are a jillion others. This tip is from Ashley Townsend and she suggested Natural Reader (spoiler alert: Natural Reader does not sound like a natural reader).
3. Try to watch it like a movie. In your mind, that is. I’m not sure they’ve got the app yet that adapts your book to an instant movie (one day…). But do try to picture your story. You don’t want your character to sit when she’s already sitting. You don’t want her to pull out a gun she doesn’t have. After you’ve gotten most of the big kinks out of your manuscript, read it trying to picture it like a movie. It will help you catch those times when your character was wearing blue sneakers that are suddenly black or they walk down the stairs that are in a different room.
4. Timeline. If you’re working on a novel or complicated story, this is helpful. I started with a simple list of chapters and notated when they happened in time. This helped me to make sure that time-wise the story made sense (I didn’t want to have someone hanging out in a cave for a day and then some other stuff happened that took a week and then, whoops, we were back in that cave again–and, no, it wasn’t a flashback). If your book is long or complicated, you might even want to make a graph like the picture above. You’ll write out the main characters and then note what they do in each chapter. This will help you to a) make sure that your main characters are making regular appearances (no one wants that 100 page gap where somebody important just drops out and gets forgotten), b) make sure each particular story line makes sense with itself and c) gives you a good way to find or reference certain scenes quickly (where did Loerwoei talk about the stone? Oh, there it is in chapter 37. Now I know I can refer to it in chapter 39).

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