Many of us suffer from what I call “word blindness”. The fact we can read and re-read a manuscript and not notice mistakes is commonplace. The mind interprets the story, as we desire it to be and has the ability to cloak problems. Frequent mistakes are missing words, incorrect spelling, continuity, and dropping into telling.
All the above are the main reasons agents and publishers send out rejection letters.
The brain is a complex organ, a mainframe computer to keep us running smoothly. Its function is to get the correct information to us at speed. This is why we have the ability to make sense of jumbled words on a page. As long as the first and last letter in each word is correct, our brain translates the jumble of words into a logical sentence.
In a perxect woxld, we woxld axl be rxch
In a perfect world, we would all be rich.
Okay, so when we are polishing manuscripts our brain tells us it is perfect, so what can we do?
Most editors will tell you to put the manuscript away for a few weeks before doing the final polish or print it out and read it. These are very sound methods but what if we are working to a deadline and don’t have three weeks to spare?
Using BETA readers, critique partners would be the best idea but personally, I like to adopt a more professional approach and have my chapter or complete manuscript polished before I send it to anyone.
I have found a simple solution to help with “word blindness”.
The idea came to me by accident. I changed the font and font size of my manuscript because my eyes were getting sore and noticed errors in my work immediately.
My solution to this problem:
- Copy the manuscript into a separate document to keep it safe.
- During editing, change the font and font size to a significantly different one for each chapter.
- Another option is to change the background color of your page.
At the end of editing, it is easy to revert to the original format by using the “select all” tab in Word and changing the font and size of the entire document.
If you still find errors, print the manuscript and read it aloud.
Dealing with common problems:
How to recognize between showing and telling.
This can be a difficult problem to overcome mainly because in normal language we “tell” a story. However, when writing we need to take the reader inside the main character’s head and make them experience everything the character is feeling. So for example telling the reader:
Jane burned her fingers on the kettle.
This statement does not involve the reader in Jane’s pain and emotion but by turning the action into showing and writing something like:
Steam billowed from the kettle and pain sizzled through scorched flesh.
The reader is immediately involved in the character’s pain and emotion.
Telling: She felt hot. She blushed.
Showing: Her face grew hot. Heat rushed into her cheeks.
Telling: She was cold.
Showing: An icy breeze brushed her skin.
If you are worried about falling into telling, check your manuscript for the following words in your POV character’s action.
She/he was, she/he felt, she /he knew.
Putting the reaction to an incident before the incident/action.
This is a frequent error because it is often the way we tell a story in normal language.
Incorrect: She screamed as her feet caught fire. (She is screaming before her feet caught fire.)
Flames licked around her feet and smoke burned her lungs. – Correct.
Head hopping- how to keep point of view.
An example of head hopping:
Lucy lifted her chin and gazed into John’s blue eyes. John took her shoulders and bent to kiss her succulent lips.
Lucy lifted her chin and gazed into John’s blue eyes. This is Lucy’s POV. Why? Because, she can see John’s blue eyes.
John took her shoulders and bent to kiss her succulent lips. John’s POV…why? Because he can see/feel her succulent lips.
This is head hopping so if the scene is in Lucy’s POV by adding, expression or descriptions that only Lucy can see to John’s action, you can easily keep Lucy’s POV.
Lucy lifted her chin and gazed into John’s blue eyes. His expression became intent and taking her shoulders in his large hands, he bent to kiss her.
Here we can see John through Lucy’s POV.
Action tags V Speech tags.
I read or listen to three or four novels a month and the one thing I find that takes me out of the story is overuse of speech tags. With audio books becoming more popular, listening to the constant repetition of especially, he/she said, he/she/ replied etc becomes monotonous.
The over use of speech tags turns dialogue into a conversation giving nothing to the story. Dialogue should move the story forward.
Really, speech tags do nothing to enhance the story in this type of dialogue between two people.
“How could you do this to me?” said John angrily.
“I didn’t do anything to you,” replied Jane.
“You cheated on me and I can’t trust you anymore,” John retorted then went on. “I’m leaving.”
First, this dialogue has dubious POV.
Secondly, this type of dialogue/conversation doesn’t move the story forward.
Using action tags, plus adding ambience to the scene moves the story along, keeps the POV, and gives the reader more information. I have overdone this scene a bit but you’ll get the idea
John grasped Jane’s arm and spun her around to face him. “How could you do this to me?”
“I didn’t do anything to you.” The color drained from Jane’s face and she trembled under his palms.
Anger overtook common sense and he shook her. “You cheated on me and I can’t trust you anymore.” When Jane’s brown eyes rounded with fear, he stepped back disgusted by his lack of control.
Pain gripped his heart. How could you do this to me? He forced words past the lump in his throat. “I’m leaving.” Taking one last look at her beautiful face to store it in his memory forever, he turned, and strode through the door.
Back story dumps/ historical information dumps.
If you have historical facts or back story, the best way to bring it into a story is though dialogue. If not then feed it through the story rather than dump it in one scene.
My simple editing checklist:
Continuity: Do your characters have the same eye and hair color throughout the manuscript?
Point of view.
Extra spaces between words.
Over use of the word “that” —most times it isn’t needed.
Check the submission guidelines and format accordingly.
Most of all, don’t rush. Trust me many a contract is lost because of rushing the finished product. Polish, polish, polish and you will get the best results.
My general advice:
Read a variety of genres and styles and create your own unique voice. Write about what you love not for a current submissions call.
Never give up.
I am not an editor but I do hope my tips will be of some use to you.
Best of luck,
Take a Walk on the Wild Side.
Containing all things romance.