Monday, June 9, 2014

6 Tips for a Cleaner Manuscript

We all love all our words, don't we? But sometimes, things must be cut in order to fit our manuscripts into a certain word count, or maybe our critique partners are sobbing because there is too much AYKB (as you know Bob) and repetitive description.

Here are some ideas to make your manuscript shine! (Your readers will thank you!)

1. Make sure you have formatted correctly. The BASICS:

-12-pt Times New Roman black font
-one inch margins on all sides
-align left
-double space (no extra space between dialogue)
-single space after periods
-indent (5 spaces/ half inch) new paragraphs
-scene breaks are marked with a # in the center of the line
-align header to the right and include your last name/title (or key words)/page number except title page
-chapters begin on new pages about a third of the way down

Always check an agent's/publisher's site for more tips on how they want your ms formatted!

2. Unnecessary backstory. Yes, I know you want to tell me about your hero's birth, but is it necessary explain it all in the first 20 pages? Get to the action of the story that you're telling now. Backstory can be woven in and revealed as the story progresses if it is essential.

3. Repetitive details. This is a hard one. I'll give some examples.

Marsha sat at the diner booth and ordered a strawberry milkshake. 
"So, that's one strawberry milkshake," the waitress said.


Sally walked into the hardware store. She scanned the isles looking for a wrench. The hardware clerk asked if she needed help finding anything. 


Ned thought his situation was dire. He Ned was stuck in the canyon without water, food, or shade. There was no shade. No food. What was he supposed to do?

See? Some things don't need repeating. Usually these details are hidden within the same paragraph or on the same page. Trust your reader to understand the story, emotions, and details. This also helps with author intrusion. :)

4. Seek and destroy passive voice! Look for these words, mostly to-be verbs (was, were, are, that, etc.), and try to restructure your sentences to make them more active. Marlana wrote an awesome post about how to find passive sentences if you need more clarity.

You were not at work today. vs. You missed work today.
You must clean your room. vs. Clean your room.

5. Limit the amount of metaphors you use. Everyone enjoys a comparison of objects, but not every other sentence or paragraph. However, one of my critique partners pointed out that Mark Zusak used tons of metaphors in The Book Thief and got away with it. I concur. I hardly noticed them. So if you're Mark Zusak, you can use as many metaphorical passages as you desire. :)

6. As You Know Bob (AYKB)

"Douglas, did you see how the commander reacted to the new general? She nearly peed her pants."
"Yeah, Bob, I did see. I think she did wet her pants. I was at the back of the line when the general walked in though, so I might not have had the best view."
"Hey, Douglas, I think it was because of his large head. She couldn't contain the laughter."
"Sounds right, Bob. I saw her shoulders shaking."

Please don't write dialogue like this. Here's a rewrite without AYKB.

The general's head was shaped like a watermelon, stretching over his decorated shoulders. The commander could not laugh. Melon wasps stung any moving object.

How about you? Are you trending a new style of writing that your critique partners just don't get? Have you sent an ms out in 18-pt Kefa font in purple to an agent? We'd all like to know. ;)


  1. Great examples on cleaning up those manuscripts! I love the AYKB examples. You made me spit out my drink. LOL! Thanks for the great tips.

    1. Hehehe. I had fun writing terrible dialogue! ;)

  2. I'm so glad you mentioned the scene break in formatting. I always have to look that one up. No more! :) And yes, it's amazing how many variations there are on submission guidelines. Check and double-check!! Thanks Diane!