Friday, November 11, 2005

Preparing Your Manuscript For Submission

1 - Print it Out

Seeing your words paraded before you on a screen is one thing.
Reading your words in a different form means you will see it in a
different perspective. If you write in long-hand, type it out. If you
use a computer, print out a paper copy.

I realize this method gets a little heavy on the pocket, but seeing
your work in a new light will highlight a lot of little mistakes and
inconsistencies that would not be so obvious otherwise. Your work
will benefit from the exposure in a different format.

2 - Read it Aloud

Okay, so this might look a little silly to anyone peeking through
your window, but the chances are, no one is looking anyway. The point
of this exercise is to bring out the natural flow (or lack thereof)
in your writing.

For this step, a notepad and a plentiful supply of pens are handy. As
you read, don't be tempted to stop and correct any redundancies, or
awkward phrasings. Jot down anything you notice in your notepad, but
keep reading. You will get to the fix-it stage later.

Nothing will benefit your writing more than hearing it read aloud.
You'll discover nuances of rhythm and interpretation that the printed
word will not show. You may also discover odd-sounding cadences that
interrupt the flow. Whatever you discover, hearing what you've
written will give you a sense of distance.

3 - Spelling and grammar

When you read something you created yourself, the tendency to
anticipate words is common. Often your mind will see the word you
intended to write, rather than the actual error. Your computer
spell-checker will not pick up these discrepancies.

Words like "then" and "than" are easy to miss, and even easier to
overlook. They are such little words, after all.

Ask yourself how you would feel if you had picked up another author's
work and found trivial typing errors sprinkled throughout the story.
I'm sure you wouldn't be too pleased, nor would the story seem so
enjoyable for this distraction. This is how a potential reader is
going to view your work. Take the time to read it through carefully.

4 - Plot inconsistencies

During this initial read through, you should discover that there are
points in your story that did not unravel the way you thought they
would. You may also learn that you began several threads that
vanished into thin air.

It happens. You know all the material in your story backwards. From
your perspective, all the information is already there. But the
reader's perspective is what counts here. Just because the
conclusions seem logical to you does not mean your writing clarified
your intentions.

You might have been caught up in the push of the story or the lure of
the characters and the plot braid you began got lost in the moment.
This is the time to pick up all the loose threads and tie them into a
neat, satisfying conclusion.

5 - Characters

Is your point of view consistent? Do you have characters who wander
into play, and then fizzle out, contributing nothing to the story?
Are your character traits consistent?

If you've introduced a character in Chapter One who is five feet five
and brunette, describing her as five feet eight with blonde hair in
Chapter Six is not going to sit well with readers, much less an

Similarly, bringing a character into play simply to deliver a line,
or specific piece of information, is awkward. Find a way to utilize
an existing character for this, or better still, flesh out your
'extra' so that he contributes more to the story line than just a
messenger service.

Sometimes, though, minor characters are important. The nameless man
serving behind the counter, the woman at the ticket booth, the
girlfriend of the next door neighbor's son. Showing the extras is
fine, but ask yourself how much relevance they have to your story
before you jump into their life history, or worse, their point of

6 - Propel the Story

Know what your story's conflicts are. Conflict helps to build
tension, which will drive your story forward. Without the right
descriptions, or by cluttering up the stage, some of that impetus can
be lost.

Sometimes, though, the thrill of writing action sequences or steamy
scenes can make you lose sight of where your story was heading.
Adding an extra scene or two for the sake of excitement will not work
if it does not advance your story line in a positive way.

It is hard to slash a great section of writing, or a favorite piece
of dialogue, but be brutal. If it does not advance your story or
strengthen your plot focus, then close your eyes and press delete

Consider how a reader will feel looking at your work for the first
time. Is the action propelling enough to make him turn page after
page? Is the protagonist's struggle believable enough to earn a sense
of empathy from your readers?

Again, do not give in to the temptation to stop reading and fix the
problem. Keep a note in your notepad of any changes.

7 - Trim the Excess

When describing anything in your fictional world, be specific.
Telling a reader "the grass was a shade of green" or "she felt kind
of ill" is wishy-washy and weak. If the grass is green, then tell us
it's green. If your characters is ill, then tell us she is, and be
sure to add the specifics of what ails her.

Similarly, go through and remove any weak nouns, verbs and modifiers.
Eliminate any abstractions and replace them with concrete images that
will help your readers to visualize what is happening.

Scan your manuscript for adjective-nouns combinations that can be
replaced with a stronger, more specific noun. Remove any expletives
that do not add to the story or characterization. Cut any clichés. If
you must use a metaphor or simile, strike a unique comparison of your

8 - Active versus passive

Passive voice weakens any piece of writing, while active voice will
add power and immediacy to your story. Instead of writing "the boat
was tossed about by the rough seas", replace this with "rough seas
tossed the boat".

Keep a look out for any sections of passive voice and remove them, or
replace them with a stronger alternative.

9 - Simplify

Is your plot complicated by twisting time-lines, too many flashbacks,
or confusing plot braids that are improperly woven together? Consider
eliminating some of these sections to give a straight chronology.

Keep descriptions simple with powerful nouns. Strip your dialogue to
its bare essence. The extra details won't be lost, and the
conversations will have a tighter feel.

Positive forms of description are clearer and more direct than
negative. As you go through your writing, make a note of the words no
and not. Then figure out a way to tell us what is instead of what

Simplicity brings clarity.

10 - Repetition

Variety is a key factor in holding a reader's interest. Go through
and find synonyms for any frequently repeated words or phrases.

Reading through this article, the amount of times I've used the word
'replace' is scary. I should find a way to rearrange my structuring
so the word 'replace' doesn't show up so often, or I will risk
sounding repetitive.

11 - Get another opinion

When you have finally completed all the changes and edits from your
notepad, it is time to seek another opinion. An unbiased viewpoint
might pick up a few discrepancies that even you missed on the last
edit. Besides which, it is always a good thing to have someone else
check through your work before an editor sees it.

It makes no difference who reads your work. You aren't looking for an
A Grade editor, just an honest reader's opinion. All you need from
them is an idea of how your work affected them. After all, more than
95% of your readers will eventually fall into this category.

And if that reader does happen to pick up on a few little things, the
objectivity will have been worth the time and trouble.

An alternative here is to submit your manuscript to a workshop.
Sometimes the critiques can seem harsh, and sometimes you will
receive some encouragement or praise for your work, but mostly you
will gain an understanding of how different people are interpreting
your words.

12 - Re-edit

Once you have completed your read-through, it is time to make the
changes real. Take the time to chop the redundancies and pull out
pieces that don't contribute. This can take some time, but your story
will be stronger for it.

Just when you think you've finished, and it's time to send your
masterpiece out into the big, bad world, read it again.

This is an important step. When adding extra words, or editing out
the parts that didn't work, it is inevitable you will make a few
mistakes. Simple typing errors, forgetting to delete the rest of an
incomplete sentence, doubling up on added lines. These things happen.

Don't skim this part. Read through your manuscript again carefully.
When you are sure it's all in place and as polished as it's ever
going to get...

... send it out the door


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Marsha, I'm completing my fourth draft of my first full novel. I'm in the process of rearranging chapter order. I've had a little trouble deciding where to place a couple of flashbacks. I found your tips almost as useful as the ones in Walter Mosley's "This Year You Write Your Novel." (Only it's taken me more than a year and a half). Rather than just read my work aloud, I took his advice and taped my reading of my work and it's been most helpful. As for your tips, I'm can especially use your No. 8. about Passive and Active voice. I'm plan to reread my novel again and make those voice changes.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous terri said...

This has been very helpful. The pointers that you gave saved me big bucks.

2:15 PM  

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