“How do I know if my manuscript is ready for submission?”
You might never know fully. But careful review of your manuscript can get it closer to being publishing-ready.
Reviewing your manuscript is mostly intuitive. Of course, you need to clean up grammatical errors and make sure you write in the same voice. That’s basic. It’s what we learned in high school English.
But reviewing your manuscript is more than just cleaning up grammar. Your editing process should also review cadence, specificity, idea development, and scene development, to name a few! There are a few key areas where writers—especially new writers—tend to overlook in the editing process.
In this blog post, we share three of the many editorial mishaps to pay attention to when you review your manuscript.
The Manuscript Is Being Reviewed
Reread that subtitle above. It sounds awkward, right? That’s because the subtitle is written in the passive voice.
One of the simplest yet most important things to pay attention to when you review your manuscript is this: passive and active voice.
What’s the difference? Passive voice produces a sentence in which the subject receives the action. Active voice produces a sentence in which the subject performs an action. The subtitle, for example, rewritten in active voice might be: She Reviewed the Manuscript.
Let’s look at another example.
Example: The ball is being chased by the dog.
This example uses passive voice. The subject is the dog. The object is the ball. The subject—the dog—is receiving the action.
Note that the passive voice is made up of a form of the verb “to be” and the past participle of another verb (“were stolen,” “was chosen,” “is eaten”).
Here’s a better way to write the sentence: The dog is chasing the ball.
See how the subject of the sentence (the dog) is performing an action (chasing the ball)?
Why do you want to avoid the passive voice? It’s not just a rule for “rule’s sake.”
An abundance of passive voice slows your writing. Makes it sluggish. Your writing will lose energy and is more impersonal. It feels indirect and evasive. Writing in the active voice, in contrast, infuses your story with vibrancy, action, and in-the-moment character decision-making.
There are times when the passive voice is more effective than the active voice. If you’re trying to write about an impersonal feeling, or evasion, or a situation when a person feels paralyzed, then passive voice is a great tool to use! Form underscores meaning.
Say you’re writing a story about a politician who wants to avoid blame for a mistake. What do most politicians claim when they mess up? They’ll say, “Mistakes were made.” This is the passive voice and it deflects blame from the politician.
As you review your manuscript, note each case of passive voice. A rule of thumb: try to eliminate most cases of the passive voice.
“Insert Statistic Here”
Most writers—especially new writers—struggle to bury their research in their voice. And they don’t know how to weave quotes or statistics into their writing.
Quotes, statistics, and research augment the ideas we, as writers, grapple with. They provide necessary support, add credibility to our arguments, texturize our writing with a fresh perspective, and even raise counterarguments that, if used effectively, will further our arguments. But they can also make your writing feel disjointed. And they can overpower your voice.
As you review your manuscript, ask yourself: “Do I dump a quote or statistic into my paragraphs without context?” If you do, slow down and add your voice to the mix.
A quote without context can make your writing feel choppy and disjointed, making it hard for the reader to follow. Set up the quote. Something like, “So-and-So, the leading voice on such-and-such has a fresh take on the topic.”
Then think about the reason you chose that particular quote or statistic. It arrested your attention enough that you saved it to a Post-It Note or jotted it down in a journal.
Tease out the parts you want the reader to pay attention to. Did you choose an alarming statistic to raise awareness and then argue a solution? Did you choose a quote from a renowned scientist because their argument supports yours and, as such, provides credibility to your argument? Whatever the reason, be sure to highlight the parts you want your reader to take away.
Think of it like braiding, a three-fold action: introduce quote, quote, integrate quote into your idea.
What Happens Now?
What differentiates a good story from a boring one? Tension.
Tension keeps your reader’s attention. It encourages them to read your book from start to finish. Without it, your story lags.
It’s one of the most important things to evaluate when you review your manuscript: Do you have tension? As soon as the tension deflates, your story is over. Whether you intended it to be over or not. Each scene you write should have tension—external or internal, or both.
How do you know if your scenes have tension?
A good scene has dialogue and reveals the motivations of characters and the conflict between them. Oftentimes new writers—especially when writing flashbacks—will merely recount information. Without dialogue, without depicting a scene, without drawing in the reader, the writing becomes a snoozer. Recounting information does not equate to good storytelling!
Think about any scenes—flashback or otherwise—you have written. Do these scenes include conflict? Action? Provide nuance to the characters? If you answered no, then you’re most likely recounting information.
Reconsider how you can raise the stakes, introduce conflict, maintain tension from the outset of your story until the very last paragraph.
What other things should you look for when you review your manuscript? Listen to our podcast episode for four more tips!