Last week, I answered a question from a client: is my manuscript publishable? Yesterday, I started to answer her second question: what do I do next? The one-line summary is I said to delete all adverbs and overused words. If you’d like to check that out in more detail, click here.
Today I’m looking at three more issues I often see in manuscripts: interior monologue problems, repetition, and creative dialogue tags.
RepetitionRepetition can be an effective method of emphasis, a stylistic choice designed to enhance the writing. Margie Lawson is the expert in this area, and I do recommend her Deep Editing course for showing you what good repetition looks like (because showing is better than telling, right?).
But repetition is often unintentional. And unintentional repetition is usually bad repetition, whether it’s repetition of a single word, repetition of an effect, or repetition of something a little more complex, like sentence structure.
Simple sentences, complex sentences, sentences with clever rhetorical devices ...They all get repetitive if used too often, and risk boring the reader. Even if your readers can’t articulate what is wrong, they will subconsciously notice something is wrong, and it will affect their reading pleasure.
One common issue is –ing words.These indicate an ongoing action, so should only be used at the start of a sentence if there are two actions occurring at the same time. But a lot of new authors use them for consecutive actions, which is a physical impossibility. For example:
Gathering her hair back from around her shoulders, she tied it back into a ponytail.GatherING indicates an ongoing action, while tiED which indicates a past action—which doesn’t make sense. It would be better written as:
She gathered her hair from around her shoulders and tied it back into a ponytail.Other authors get the word order wrong, so the sentence becomes a dangling modifier, as Kathy Ide explains:
A “dangling modifier” is a phrase that does not clearly and sensibly modify the appropriate word. For example:
"Changing the oil every 3,000 miles, the Mustang seemed to run better."
The subject of this sentence is “the Mustang.” The modifying phrase is “Changing the oil . . .” A Mustang cannot change its own oil. So you’d want to rewrite that as something like:
"Changing the oil every 3,000 miles, Sandra found she got much better gas mileage.”Another common and overused sentence structure is starting a sentence with as. Brown and King give this as examples of a sentence construction that weakens your writing:
Two common stylistic constructions are:
Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.
As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.
Both of these constructions [as and –ing] take a bit of action (“She pulled off her gloves”) and tuck it away into a dependent clause (“Pulling off her gloves”). This tends to place some of your action at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant.Again, use Ctrl-F or Ctrl-H to find and change offending sentences. Search for “As” and for “ing”. Any time these come up at the beginning of a sentence, revise the sentence to remove them.
Dialogue TagsDialogue tags are how we show the reader who is speaking. Back in high school, our English teachers encouraged us to use lots of creative dialogue tags to show the reader how the character was speaking: she cried, she thundered, she growled, she barked.
This advice is now outmoded, and there is no easy way to identify all the creative tags you may have used (after all, your English teacher wanted each one to be different!). So you’re going to have to do this the hard way: read your manuscript, and delete or change all but the following dialogue tags:
Either replace your tags with one of these, or use an action beat so you don’t need a dialogue tag. I cover dialogue tags in more detail in this blog post, and I cover action beats and dialogue cues here.
Interior MonologueInterior monologue is the thoughts of your character expressed in his or her own words. This means the interior monologue has to sound like your character—not like you. Does the interior monologue sound like something your character would say? If so, great. If not? It needs revising so it does. Again, there is no easy advice here. You know your characters better than anyone, so you know how they think and speak.
This might be an area where you ask for help from a friend—someone who knows you well enough to identify when your character stops sounding like your character and starts sounding like you.
Then What?The next stage of editing after a Manuscript Assessment depends on the client. Some want another Manuscript Assessment (e.g. if they have undertaken major edits). With this second Manuscript Assessment, I read on the computer and use Word’s Comments feature to comment on what has been done well, and what still needs fixing.
Other authors are happy to move straight to the copyediting stage, either the full manuscript or a staged mentoring process, where I copyedit a portion of the manuscript, so they can see if they’ve understood and implemented my earlier suggestions.
It depends on the client, but the important thing is to work on your own revision and self-editing skills to fix the simple mechanical issues, which will allow your editor to make your work shine.
About Iola Goultonwww.christianediting.co.nz to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction.
I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more at www.iolagoulton.com.
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