Our thanks to editor Elle River for this guest contribution!
Congratulations! You’ve finished your manuscript. Now it’s time to start browsing for cover art, drafting query letters, and researching publishing companies to – wait! In chapter seven you forgot a comma before the dialogue tag, and over in chapter fourteen you spelled Cindy with an “i” instead of a “y.” Yikes! You almost published your book with those errors. Can you imagine the Amazon review comments?
Before you publish, double-check your work for the following five writing flubs. You might need an editor (most of us DO!)
1. Relying on Spell-check as Your Proofreader
The days of ink stains and correction fluid are past; we have technology now. Except, technology thinks those comma splices are fine, and it doesn’t bother with homophones – any version of “their” is acceptable. Spell-check doesn’t catch the incorrect use of affect and effect or ensure, assure, and insure. Worst of all, technology has no opinion on the importance of the Oxford comma!
Your word processor’s spell-check will not catch every error, and your work deserves perfection. The best way to achieve this is with a second set of eyes. If you’re worried about the grammatical integrity of your work, consider hiring an editor to proofread your manuscript.
2. Neglecting Consistency & Authenticity
Wait, is it Cindi with an “i,” or does Cindy have an evil twin? On page 23, you mention the house is a warm yellow, but on page 72 the house is a burgundy color. How are the main characters communicating via text message if the year is 1972?
If a detail isn’t essential to the plot, it can get overlooked. After tens of chapters and thousands of words, why not have help keeping all the little details straight? Consider consulting an editor if you’re finding consistency errors in your plot. They can double-check that it’s Cindy with a “y,” and confirm the house is yellow with burgundy shutters.
Editors can verify period authenticity too, and let you know cell phones weren’t used in 1972. Most people carried an address book and called their friends on a rotary phone.
3. Changing Verb Tenses
Your work employs the past tense. Cindy “washed the dog,” and then she “cooked dinner.” Oh no! The stove caught fire! Cindy “rushes to the window,” and “jumps out onto her front lawn.” Wait! Is the book in present tense now? Were the previous sentences a memory? What’s happening?
Choosing a verb tense for your story is important. Verb tense can change the pacing of a story and be a useful tool if you’re writing includes flashbacks or time travel. However, changing verb tense in the middle of a story can confuse readers and mess with a work’s structural integrity.
Tense changes are easy to miss, especially when they happen in the middle of a high-action scene. If you’re struggling with verb tense, consider reaching out to an editor. They can help you decide which verb tense is best to tell your story with and make sure it remains consistent.
4. Excessive Adverbs
I don’t hate adverbs, and I don’t think you should either. Adverbs have a healthy place in writing. The problem with adverbs depends on their frequency. The occasional adverb is fine, but a work filled with “calmly, dangerously, very, really, slowly, etc.” is a hollow work. Adverbs tell the reader what is happening, but a robust and dynamic story should show the reader.
Count up your adverbs – how many do you have? If you’re using more than one or two on every page, it might be time to talk with an editor. They will read your work, listen to your voice, and help you choose language that shows your readers how “carefully” Cindy jumped from her window. Perhaps Cindy dangled by her fingertips before pushing off the ledge and into a soft roll.
Replacing adverbs means creating a visual experience for your reader. An editor can help you add vibrancy to your work.
5. Using the Passive Voice
The passive voice gets a bad reputation. Like adverbs, there’s a place for the passive voice in creative writing, but temperance is key. Passive voice can damage your pacing. It can slow down the action of a critical scene and drag paragraphs of exposition and description.
Recognize the passive voice in your writing by looking for “ing” verbs following the words “were” and “was.” Passive voice appears anytime the subject is acted upon by the verb (like in this sentence). If you feel parts of your work are suffering from the passive voice, think about reaching out to an editor. They will work with you to rearrange your sentences and make sure your pacing never suffers from the passive voice.
Writing a story demands hours and hours of passionate, tenacious, and emotional work.
I understand, as a writer, that subjecting your work to an edit is often scarier than submitting it for publishing. However, as an editor, I want to reassure you that your work is in good hands. Sometimes it’s impossible for writers to give their masterpiece a critical eye, and that’s what an editor is for. These five writing flaws can clutter your message and obscure your story. If you recognize any of these in your own work, reach out an editor today. They will help polish your manuscript until it’s publish-ready.
Elle River is a writer, editor, and hazelnut coffee lover. She has her Bachelor of Arts from TESU, and is working on her debut novel. When she’s not writing, Elle is spending time with her daughter, husband, and fluffy cat in her Northeast home. Visit her website at www.ellemichaleriver.com or connect with her on Twitter @emichaelriver