Monday 15 August 2016

What Do I Do Next? (Part 1)

By Iola Goulton

Last week, I answered a question from a client: Is my manuscript publishable? Today I’m going to answer her second question:

For background, this author has ticked off the basics. She has a solid plot with plenty of conflict (internal and external), and her main character has undergone significant character change by the end of the novel. Her structure is sound. The whole novel is written in the point of view of one character, with no headhopping or author intrusion.

Characterisation is solid, with a few minor tweaks needed (mostly arising from only having one viewpoint character—a good stylistic choice for a young adult/new adult novel, but one which limits the author’s ability to show what the antagonist is thinking).

I’ve provided her with a Manuscript Assessment

... which means I’ve read her novel and given her 8,000+ words of feedback. Some of that is specific suggestions, but I don’t provide an actual list of steps—partly because those steps are variable depending on how she wants to publish. There is no point in her paying me to copyedit a manuscript if she wants to submit to a publisher who might have different style preferences, e.g. … vs … vs . . . (any of which could be correct, depending on the publisher and their preferred style guide).

The manuscript isn’t yet ready to be submitted to a publisher, but there are a lot of things she can do to improve it. These changes will both increase her chances of getting a publishing contract (if that’s what she wants) and reduce my copyediting fees (if she decides to self-publish, or decides she does want a full copyedit before submitting to a publisher or agent. It’s not unheard of).

You might think this advice is specific to her manuscript, and it is. But I see many beginner manuscripts with these same errors … and some not-so-beginner manuscripts as well. And these are the errors that mean an agent or publisher will add your manuscript to the reject pile, as they indicate an author who hasn’t done their homework in regard to writing craft issues. The view is that if an author can’t get these mechanical issues right, they are likely to have other, more serious, issues which are going to be even harder to fix.

I’m not going to explain why these things are wrong (I did that in my letter to the client, and have discussed self-editing in some of my previous posts). Instead, I’m going to focus on how to fix these issues.

Today I’m looking at adverbs and overused words (sometimes called weasel words). I’ll be back tomorrow to cover interior monologue, repetition, and dialogue tags.


The easy way to find adverbs is through Word’s trusty Find and Replace feature: Click Ctrl-H to bring up the dialogue box

  • Enter “ly” in both boxes (and keep your cursor in the Replace box)
  • Click on More
  • Click on the Replace button at the bottom right-hand corner
  • Click Highlight, and Replace All

… and all your ly’s will turn yellow (or whatever colour you have the highlight selected to). Note this will pick up names like Emily, and will also pick up non-adverbs like silly.

Now you can work your way through the document and revise your manuscript to delete all the unnecessary adverbs.

But which are the unnecessary adverbs? Almost all of them.

  • All adverbs in dialogue tags (if there are one or two you can’t bear to part with, leave them in and I’ll delete them for you). You may need to revise and strengthen the dialogue to show, rather than using the adverb to tell the reader how the speaker is feeling. Alternatively, show through action or body language.
  • All adverbs in narrative or description. Again, you may need to revise the manuscript to show better.
  • Most adverbs in dialogue—we do actually (!) use a lot of adverbs when we speak, so while adverbs may be indicative of the way a character speaks, we don’t want to overdo it.

Ideally (!), you’ll be left with no more than a handful of adverbs, and none of them will be telling where you should be showing.

Overused words

Most writers have words they use too often. These are often weak adjectives, which should either be deleted, or replaced with stronger adjectives. Examples include:

  • Really
  • Quite
  • Only
  • Just
  • Very

In fact, there’s a quote about “very” …

Other weasel words are words which don’t add to the sentence—“that” is a common example. As a general rule, if the word can be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence, it should be deleted.

Other common overused words include:

  • Began (and begin)
  • Start (and started)
  • Sudden (all of a sudden or suddenly)

Sometimes these words are telling us what is already happening:
“I’m starting to come down with a headache.”
In real life, this means “I’ve got a headache.” So cut the excess.

Again, use Ctrl-F or Ctrl-H to find the offending words, and see how many can be deleted or replaced.

I’ll be back tomorrow to discuss interior monologue (briefly!), repetition, and dialogue tags.

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more at

You can also find me on:
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