You’ve got your foot in the door. Someone Important wants to read something you’ve written. A query, a few pages or even, dare we hope, the whole novel! If you’re like me, that makes you want to give it a quick skim. I want to polish any rough edges that might remain.
That’s the optimistic postulation. More likely, you’re looking at what you’ve written and aren’t sure where to begin with the editing.
I recommend glancing through your work with an eye to these things regularly. I do it daily. It always makes my work tighter, more polished and more readable.
- Look at word usage. In fact, take a look at The 32 Most Commonly Misused Words and Phrases before you take on your manuscript. Using the wrong word can make a reader cringe. It can cause a literary agent to toss your query out the window. These are Bad Things, dear Reader.
- Look at sentences. In your fit of inspiration, did you tend to run on? I do that. Check for sentences that would make you run out of breath. Do you see an “and?” Be suspicious. It may be camouflaging two sentences that are huddling together. Try shortening your sentences and making them more powerful with better word choices.
- Look for repetition. Your sentences are more powerful with fewer words. Check for phrases that could be implied by just one word. (“Summer months” could be “summer,” for example. I caught myself do that this morning. Twice.)
- Look at paragraphs. Remember high school composition class? Each paragraph describes a single idea. If you move to a new idea, hit Enter and go to a new paragraph. Shorter paragraphs are better for readers than longer ones, generally speaking. Your genre will also influence paragraph size.
- Look for the passive voice. It may sound terribly elegant. If it does, it may be the passive voice. Check out this article on The Passive Voice, then give your writing a kick in the seat of its pants.
These are the things our heroine keeps in mind as she tightens and buffs her daily writing. They’re simple suggestions which may turn your work into a leaner, more powerful manuscript.