This Business of Writing

Ten Tips to Remain Unpublished

In Editing Your Manuscript on October 22, 2009 at 9:13 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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We all wish to see our books and novels on the shelves while throngs of people race to the store to grab a copy for themselves. Few of us will ever realize this dream if we lack those skills necessary to master the craft of writing. So, I’m offering a short list of novice errors the accomplished writer has learned not to make.

Your manuscript is full of synonyms for the word, “said.”

“Save me!” she pleaded.

“I’ll save you!” the hero responded.

The villain cried out, “I won’t let you save her!”

“Never mind, I’ve saved myself,” she complained.

If you feel you must use a tag line, put it in sentence form.

She pleaded for someone to help.  “Save me!”

Her hero called out to her. ‘”‘ll save you!”

The villain yelled to her hero. “I won’t let you save her!”

After freeing herself, she stood behind them with a scowl. “Can’t you two do anything right?”

(If your dialogue sounds like this, you’ll remain unpublished, but this works as an example.)

You Use Too Many “ly” Words.

Adverbs are badly overused by writers today. Oops, I mean, Adverbs are overused by writers today.

Adverbs are the lazy author’s method of working. This writer has the tendency to use the first thought that comes to mind and put it on  his paper. This is no problem in your first draft, but by your fourth or fifth, they should mostly be gone, uh, they should generally be gone, oh, jeez, I mean there should be few, if any, of them left in your manuscript. There are two traditional ways to overcome this error. The first is to use your Find Feature within your word processor and locate those evil “ly” words. Replace them with stronger verbs or reword them. The classic example is to replace “softly crying” with “whimpering.” You can also drop the “ly” word entirely, or rather in its entirety,  if it doesn’t make a difference to the meaning. Consider the phrase, “utterly alone.” If you’re alone, you’re by yourself and if you are “utterly alone” you are still by yourself.

You Have a Tendency to Overuse Adjectives.

Our classic example in this case is, “the dark night.” We all know night is dark and by adding the word, you’ve not embellished the concept of night at all. James Thurber explains with this sentence. “The building is pretty ugly and a little big for its surroundings.” “Pretty ugly” is still ugly and “a little big” is still big. There is a place for adverbs in writing, but use them sparingly and only if you’ve attempted to replace them with verbs and nouns.

You Use Wimpy Words.

Wimpy words tend to cheapen your writing. They include such things as almost, probably, seems, appears, about and “ish-words”, among others. Did your character almost yell out or did they fume? Did the boss seem upset or were his eyes flaming with anger? Use your words with boldness and confidence.

Clichés are a Dime a Dozen.

Now and then your readers feel it in their bones that your writing has feet of clay. (Hey, Cut me some slack. I’m improvising on the fly here.) Cliché’s bore your readers and an author’s worst sin is to writing boringly, uh, without feeling.

Your Writing Contains Dialect.

It be too diff’cult t’ red dose dam woids. Ya cotton t’ ma meanin’? With some characters, you must show a distinction between their dialect and that of others, but aim for the flow of their speech patterns rather than their actual words.

You Repeat Your Best Words Over and Over and Over and Over Again.

If you truly use the same words too often, your writing will truly be, uh, truly bad. Keep your eyes open for those words that repeat themselves too often. It bores your readers to repeat the same word or words repetitively. Look for those words that are similar in wording, too. Reword them.

Miscellaneous Errors.

“He looked over the escarpment between childhood and manhood.” If your writing sounds like poetry, reword it. Just use expressive, interesting words and put them on the paper.

You use altogether too much alienating alliteration.

Sure, it can be effective if used with correct comportment, but its effectiveness is fast fleeting if you employ it as a tentative tool too many memorable times. Alliteration can work, but its strategic use makes for more effective writing.

Your Writing is Coy or Uses Gimmicks.

Starting too many sentences with, “and” or “but.”

You pull lines from movies or television shows.

Your exciting sentences end with multiply punctuation marks!!!!

You use CAPITAL LETTERS instead of italics to indicate emphasis . (“DO WHAT I SAY!” vs. “Do what I say!”)

Perform a triple-check of your manuscript and see if it can be improved. It may well make the difference between a form rejection and an offer.

(And you thought you were done with your editing.)

I hope you know by now I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


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  1. […] Ten Tips to Remain Unpublished- http://bit.ly/aySkq8 […]

  2. These are great tips, Patrick — and it’s terrific to have them consolidated into one practical chunk like this. I’m not a huge Stephen King fan (used to be though), but his book On Writing is actually pretty darn useful I think. He has a lot of tips/thoughts in a similar vein to these (in fact, he mentions going easy on the adverbs too) that are worth taking a look at. Even an “old hand” can stand some reminders now and again.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ted.

      Yes, Stephen Kind does seem to have the insights into the craft that help us all write a better novel, doesn’t he? A lot of people refer to his book on the subject.

      I also agree with you that us old hands need to reminders. In fact, that is one of the reasons I write articles – to keep me up to speed.

      Patrick

  3. LOL! As an author who has judged manuscript contests, this gave me a chuckle.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Julie.

      Do you see many of issues when you judge?

      Patrick

      • Actually, the mistakes I see most frequently are a complete lack of POV (point of view) and GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict). I see writers rushing to get lots of action and information in, rather than slowing down and digging into the meat of a scene. Lots of action does not make a book a page-turner! Caring about the characters does that. Also, don’t give me your characters’ entire backstory before I know them well enough to care. Drop me straight into the moment, what’s happening right then when the novel begins.

        I can actually forgive some of the mistakes you mention if I’m invested in the characters and the story.

        Okay, I’ll stop now before I go off on a rant. Sometimes, though, when judging a contest, I see promise in a writer and I just want to shake them to get them that last little bit from “okay” to “GREAT!”

        • Great insights, Julie.

          Would you care to write a guest post on my blog about the subject? Realistic advice from someone like you can be great value to aspirin writers.
          If so, please note I’ll be on vacation this next week. However, I’d love to have you submit a post sometime in late May. You can drop a line at author@cpatrickschulze.com, if you’d like further information.

          Many thanks for your time to read and comment.

          Patrick

  4. Thanks for the post. Its amazing to know some of these things continue to be done.

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