I love to think “big picture.” Especially when building a novel from the ground up, I really like solidifying the overarching themes and understanding the story’s entire structure.by Diane O’Connell
Yet, as dazzling as your plot twists are, or as transformative as your main character’s arc may be, any author who’s worked with me knows it’s also essential to think small. Specifically: if you don’t pay close attention to those little mechanical elements in your writing, you better believe a publisher will raise an eyebrow – or will even toss your manuscript into the rejection pile.
Here are 5 writing errors that need to be out of your manuscript before sending it to a publisher
1. Use of clichés
The second an editor sees a cliché in your writing she will feel a shiver creep up her spine, her eyes will flash with anger, and she’ll drop your manuscript like a hot potato, go running for the hills, screaming at the top of her lungs, “What did I do to deserve this?” (How many clichés did you count in that last sentence? If you answered six, you’re correct.)
Clichés telegraph to the editor that you’re a lazy or unimaginative writer. Often writers will use clichés in the first draft of their manuscript as a placeholder so they don’t get bogged down trying to find the right words. But you’ve got to go back over your manuscript and eliminate every cliché you find. And that doesn’t stop at hackneyed expressions. Characters can be clichéd, too, like the prostitute with a heart of gold, the grumpy old man, or the handsome but mysterious stranger.
2. Point-of-view violations
If you start a story in the first person, you can’t suddenly shift to the third person just because you realized partway through writing that you need to offer another perspective besides your main character.
Likewise, avoid “head hopping” within a scene. Stick to one point of view per scene. Period.
3. Telling, not showing
This is a big one, and often may not be evident for many pages into a manuscript. Telling often involves summarizing an event rather than letting it unfold as a scene. The scene, on the other hand, shows the reader what is happening. Another way writers tell rather than show is through the narrator’s description, especially of characters. Example:
Telling: He was a very tall and very fat man.
Showing: He could barely squeeze his massive frame through the door, and he had to duck his head to avoid getting hit by the doorway.
4. Overuse of gerund phrases
Avoid starting off sentences with the “-ing” form of the verb as much as possible. The reason is that it’s usually accompanied by another action, implying that the two actions are performed simultaneously, which is usually not possible. Here’s what I mean:
Wheeling around, she slammed the door shut.
You can’t “wheel” and “slam” at the same time. Better:
She wheeled around, slammed the door. Notice we don’t need the word shut either.
5. An intrusive narrator
There’s a real danger with this when you’re writing in the first person. An intrusive narrator calls attention to the story, addressing the reader directly, interrupting the flow of the narrative with his own observations. Example: Now, you may be wondering why I let her talk to me like that in front of her stupid friends.
This blog post was adapted from my Special Report: 50 Ways to Stay Out of The Rejection Pile, my gift to you for signing up for my bi-weekly newsletter.