Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Find" Your Way to a Tighter Manuscript (and Blog Bounce)

We have a guest post today here at Omnific. Thanks to editor, Beverly Nickelson, for the wonderful insight into what an editor loves to see when they get a manuscript. 

Editing is tedious work, and after reading through a manuscript enough times, it’s easy to become blinded to the little things. But the little things are important, and when sending a manuscript to a publisher or literary agent, every writer wants his or her manuscript to be as polished as possible.  So what to do when you’re in the middle of an edit and going cross-eyed?  I say take a step back and let your word processor’s search function do some of the work.

Below are five easy ways you can use the search function (in Microsoft Word go to Edit and select Find OR press control+F) to polish your manuscript.

1.  Pare back on overused words

The exact words will be unique to each author, so read through your work objectively, and if any word jumps out at you as potentially overused, do a search and see how frequently it pops up.  You might be surprised.  Substitute for or eliminate the word where you can. 

Words that I see frequently overused:  Finally, Actually, Suddenly, Headed/Heading, Looked/Looking, Really, Just.

2. That’s enough

“That” is so overused it gets its own category.  For whatever reason, the word flows easily off the keyboard, but using too many gets annoying for readers. Go ahead and “that” all you want during the writing process, but before you send the manuscript on for review, do a search and get rid of those “that”s that aren’t necessary. 

She thought that it was odd that he didn’t tell her that he was going.

Could be:
She thought it was odd he didn’t tell her he was going.

3. Contractions—please use them.

When writing, it comes naturally to spell everything out, but contractions read better—in both dialogue and narrative  Do a search for “is not” “will not” “he is” etc. and replace with “isn’t” “won’t” “he’s” etc. wherever appropriate.

4. Passive Writing

By now you’ve probably heard over and over again that active writing is generally preferred over passive. The Find function is helpful for weeding out passive writing in an objective manner.  Search for words such as “was” “were” “to be” “could” and review each sentence individually to determine whether active voice works better.

For example:

Passive (Subject taking indirect action)
Active (Subject taking direct action)

He was walking to the store.

He walked to the store. 

We were wondering if it was true.

We wondered if it was true.

Are you going to be there?

Will you be there?

He could feel the cool breeze.

He felt the cool breeze

5. Began/Started

Phrases beginning with derivatives of “began” or “started” should be used sparingly.  Is it important that he began to drum his fingers?  Or can he simply drum his fingers?  Does she need to start sneezing?  Or can she just sneeze?  A general rule of thumb is to not have someone “begin” or “start” something unless the text will also note when they stop. Use the Find function to identify those “began/begin”s and “starts/started”s and decide which ones should stay and which ones can go.

An important note of caution: resist the urge to get overly slash happy during this phase of editing. Occasionally, passive writing is appropriate, many times “that”s are necessary, and once in a while a character needs to “begin” doing something.   What you’re looking for is overuse of any of the above.  Now, fire up that Find and have fun…and enjoy reading your smoother manuscript when it’s once again time to start from the top.

Thanks so much, Bev. This is so helpful (believe me I wish I had seen this a few years ago - and I'm sure you do too!).  I hope that authors can take a few minutes to read through again and will be able to do some self editing before submitting their manuscripts to a  publisher, because these are ALL great tips!

And's Thursday, and that means TIME TO BOUNCE!

Here's how this works:

If you are an author, click on "Get the Code Here" to get the link. Copy and paste that link in your blog post. Then hop right on and add your blog url to get added to the list.

If you are a reader, you get to bounce from blog to blog and meet some great new authors and maybe find some new books to read.

So everyone hop on and go for a bounce!


  1. Thanks so much for this Beverly. Very helpful.

  2. I'll be honest - I mostly wrote this as a reminder to MYSELF of what to check before moving on, ha.

  3. Wonderful advice! Suddenly and just are two of my repeat offenders. My editors' tightening has helped my writing so much.