I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cleaning Up Your Manuscript

By Paula Boire, writing as Sara L. Jameson

August 3rd. Only seven weeks until the national ACFW conference in Dallas and the Polish and Pitch Scrimmage with Susan May Warren, the day before the Early Bird Session at the conference. You’re probably polishing your one-sheet, practicing your pitch, and sprucing up your manuscript in preparation for the long-awaited week. I’d like to share a few of the techniques I use then hear how you refine your work for submission.  

After I check Susan May Warren’s first chapter checklist in her Book Buddy to make sure all those must-haves are in place, I do a search and find on those pesky words that sneak past my editing radar: the vague, weak words—it, that, just, even, etc.,—or “as” and “when,” which can create stimulus/response reversals.

My complete table of all body language, dialogue cues, and those “favorite, over-used words,” has already pointed out any multiple uses of a smile, a shrug—or you fill in the word—and provided an opportunity to try to write those items in a fresh way and pop them into the manuscript.

My color edits of each chapter highlights an excess of any color, too much internal monologue, a lack of body language, talking heads, or a lack of rhetorical devices for empowered paragraphs. And equally critical, a lack of tension on the page.

I like to read through the manuscript and pretend I’m an outside reader and jot down what the writing REALLY reveals about the characters, and not what I THINK is on the page. During that read-through I also consult my previously compiled list of story questions and loose threads in a suspense or mystery manuscript and note the page on which those story questions and threads are resolved. Or were overlooked.

An oral read-through, scene by scene, of the manuscript helps check for echo effects in body language, rhythm and cadence of sentences, and missed opportunities to backload sentences with a power word. Sometimes accidentally omitted words also surface with this approach. And rather than weighing the effect of sentences as a total unit, i.e. the paragraph as a whole, I take each sentence individually and ask myself if the words are really carrying their weight in enhancing the story. I also consult my multiple-paged lists of items to check for in each scene and work on these factors in layers during the deep editing process.

Hopefully, when we’ve done all of these things, we have a manuscript worthy of publication.

How do you go about cleaning up your manuscript? I’d love to learn more ways to improve. 


  1. Paula, great suggestions. I'm just finishing the first chapter of my new book and this is a good reminder for what I need to do.
    One thing I do is to make sure each scene has a goal. I didn't do that always, and while sometimes I had pretty words, they didn't go anywhere. lol

  2. All great suggestions, Paula! I love the Book Buddy!

    Like Pat, I like to go through scene by scene to make sure every single scene has a purpose. And, again echoing Pat, I'll often find scenes that I like but that add absolutely nothing to the actual story. :) I like to pay attention to Susie's SHARP acronym, too--stakes, hero/heroine identity, anchoring, run, story problem--for each scene.

  3. Love this post, Paula, especially since I'm working through this process for the first time. :) I'm figuring out a number of things I can do to make my next story a little easier to clean up.

    On my next read through of my story, I plan to see if I have the scenes happening in a setting that can help develop/add conflict, or be interesting, or add tension. Perhaps a setting that the characters interact with. I kind of did that in my fast draft, but I didn't focus on it as much as I could have. As I grow in my understanding of writing craft, I'm thinking about these things more.

    Sorry, I guess I could have edited my comment a little bit, practiced "writing tight."

  4. Great Reminder!

    I love the Book Buddy, it helps keep the wip in line.

    Alena T.

  5. I have my amazing CP look it over and offer suggestions. Then I read it aloud on my final read-through. I change a lot more stuff than you'd think even after multiple revisions.