Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Most Common Manuscript Mistakes

I received this question via email:  What are the most common mistakes writers make in manuscripts?

Here are the top :

1.  Repetitive word usage:  the same word and close derivations used multiple times in the same sentence and/or paragraph.

2.  Introducing a lot of characters at the same time but not describing any of them. 

3.  Repetitive sentence structure. 

4.  Including a prologue when one is not really necessary, serving only to confuse, bore or alienate the reader.

5.  Misuse of punctuation:  especially using semi-colons incorrectly.

6.  Excessive use of italics. 

7.  Word use consistency/inconsistency:  spelling/capitlaizing/hyphenating, etc. a word differently in numerous places.

8.  Sentences that run together.

9.  Using the same phrase to describe the same action every time.  (i.e. using "their lips locked" every time someone kisses)

10.  Misspellings.  With spellcheck, there is definitely no excuse for this!

BONUS:  A synopsis that doesn't aptly represent their manuscript.

Try to avoid these mistakes and you will have a much cleaner manuscript!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Quotation Confusion

I've noticed a lot of folks are confused about quotation marks when it comes to a new paragraph spoken by the same person.  Here's an easy way to remember the rule.  If one person is talking, stops, and then starts talking on a different subject, you have a quotation mark at both starts, but not at the stop in between.  Example:

   His words caught her off guard.  She was stunned, flattered, confused, and lusting simultaneously. She whispered, "Thank you.
   "Um, don't you need to get to a phone?"
   "Yes, I do," he replied.

The paragraph separates the two ideas, but the lack of the closed quotation shows that the same person is still speaking.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Be Consistent

Another bad habit I've noticed recently, exhibited even by published authors, is word inconsinstency. 

My favorite was in a manuscript where the author actually made up an invention, and its corresponding abbreviation and/or nickname.  Example:  Saab Version I would abbreviate to SVI.  The nomenclature then appeared a number of different times after introduction as both SVI and SV I. 

When it's your own invention, how embarrassing is that?

Would you go out in public with one black and one white sock on?  Don't leave discoveries like these to your editor, or even worse - to an agent or publisher. 

Friday, March 5, 2010

Repeating Words Repeatedly with Repetition

One of the most common errors I have noticed while editing manuscripts recently is repetitive word usage.  I am talking using the same word sometimes two and three times in the same sentence, and then again in the next sentence!

This is fine on your first draft, but by the time it goes out to an agent, or a publisher, that word should be "trimmed" down. 

Not convinced you do that?  Well, there are ways to find out.  If you use MSWord, go to Edit, Replace.  Type in the word you suspect is overused into "Find What" then type the same word in again with a space after it into "Replace With."  Click on the Replace All button.  THis will tell you how many instances of the word occur in your document, or the area you've highlighted.  You can click Edit/Undo Replace All after this activity to return all the instances to normal.

Another way to see if you do this is to read your writing outloud.  This slows you down and it is harder to skate over repetitive words, awkward sentences and things that don't flow well.

More on the most common issues next week.