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Sept. 1, 2014:

From an Editor’s Viewpoint

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

If you’re serious about having your fiction published, there are several important points to remember as you create your masterpiece. An editor can usually read the first page or two of a work and know whether the author is an experienced writer or a newbie. Believe it or not, many of the problems I’ve listed below will actually surface on the first few pages of a poorly written story.

Although the tell-tale signs are many (probably two or three dozen), I decided to concentrate on what I feel are the twelve most important problems that appear frequently in fiction manuscripts. Even experienced and published authors, including me, must be careful not to get sloppy and fall into a “newbie mode” of writing.

So, let’s take a look at some of these tell-tale signs that flash like a neon sign BEGINNER on the pages of an author’s manuscript. I’ve listed the twelve points in this post, and we’ll look at the first one in detail. In the next few posts, we’ll discuss the others and sometimes give examples.

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

Too Much Description and Narration

Classics from days gone by were notorious for pages and pages of description and narration. Perhaps you’re a fan of those old books that detailed everything, including how many feathers were on Aunt Millie’s new hat. However, today’s readers, including me, don’t have the patience to wade through all the gold and glitter of background, scenery, characteristics of the main characters, and colors and shades of the setting sun. Today’s readers want a quick read, one that they often can knock off in an afternoon or evening.

I remember several years ago I went to the local library and got Jules Verne’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, a book that was made into a movie, probably 30-some years ago, with lots of action, including monster lizards running around eating people. Well, I sat down to enjoy this exciting book, and about 80 pages into it, I threw up my hands and gave up. Why? The book went on and on to describe the island, the cave the fellows lived in, the garden they planted, blah, blah, blah. In fact, those first 80 pages seemed completely isolated from the main plot of the story IF the movie had followed the main plot line when the book was transposed into a movie script. I also tried reading book one of LORD OF THE RINGS with the same result. The first hundred pages or so described all the different worlds and characters, and I got bored out of my tree. I gave up. I’d rather watch the movies.

When I contracted with Zonderkidz to write the KEYSTONE STABLES SERIES, I had kind of a culture shock when my editor returned my first few chapters with this message attached, “I want dialogue on every page.”

I swallowed hard, took a good look at my manuscript, and decided I had a major revision on my hands. It’s important to note the books in my series are for tweens, so the action MUST be fast-moving, which includes frequent dialogue. However, in studying today’s published books for adults, I find practically the same principle. Dialogue constitutes probably at least 60% of most pages, sometimes a higher percentage.

Remember, readers today want a quick read. The definition for a “classic” or “best-seller” has changed drastically over the last several decades. So work on including more dialogue and deleting a lot of the “fluff.”

The editor just might be totally impressed and send you a contract!

pen and quill

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