Victoria Howard is the author of three romantic suspense novels, The House on the Shore, which was a contender for the 2009 Joan Hessayon Award, Three Weeks Last Spring, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and Ring of Lies, as well as a number of short stories.
Born in Liverpool, Victoria is a member of Romantic Novelists’ Association and currently resides in South Yorkshire, UK.
Manuscript Makeover – The inner critic
You’ve finally reached the end of your 120,000 word novel and typed the words ‘The End.’ What’s next? Do you print it out, parcel it up and send it off to the first agent on your list, then immediately start researching another book? Well, you could, but the fact is the manuscript you’ve slogged hard over and written to the best of your ability, still needs work.
Before you all start screaming at me, take a deep breath and relax. Ask any agent or publisher and they will tell you that first, second or even third drafts are rarely ready for publication let alone submission. There’s always that little something that could be added or a sentence improved upon and that’s were careful revision or editing comes in.
So where do you begin and how do you make those improvements?
Different authors have different techniques. Because your manuscript is your baby, it’s all too easy to be lulled by familiar words and phrases into thinking it is error free and perfect. I suggest you put your manuscript aside for a week or two. Focus on something else, and then return with a clear mind and fresh eyes.
Print a copy of your manuscript, as it’s easier to make notes in the margin and mark sections which require revising. My first revision is always for content and here are a few points to consider:
- Does the story open with the main protagonist in conflict with the antagonist or someone else in the story?
- Can the reader easily identify who the main protagonist is?
- Have you described the initial conflict/event in such a way that it draws the reader in and makes them want to continue reading?
- Are your main characters realistic/strong/well-motivated?
- And the villan. Is he or she a real person or just a device to push the plot along?
- Is your plot realistic or too far-fetched?
- Does the setting come alive for the reader?
- Do you write the stimulus before the response? Remember, for every action, there is a reaction, so don’t allow your characters to react before the reader knows what they are reacting to.
- Is there too much back story, resulting in poor pacing and long, boring narration?
- Does the middle of the story sag or does the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist escalate to the point where both are willing to sacrifice almost everything to achieve their goals?
- Has your protagonist grown emotionally during the story?
- Have you closed all the sub-plots before the climax?
- Is there sufficient suspense/mystery in your story?
- Is the ending emotionally satisfying for the reader?
- Is the dialogue realistic? People rarely say, ‘I do not…’ but rather, ‘I don’t…’
- Do you remain in the correct point of view and is it clear to the reader who is speaking?
- Do you ‘head hop’ – switch POV from paragraph to paragraph?
- Have you fully explored your characters emotions and tactile sensations?
- Is your story written in the right tense?
- Have you withheld or repeated information which will annoy or bore your reader?
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does give you a basis from which to work from. The secret is to revise slowly, scene by scene, chapter by chapter. Make notes in the margins or in a notebook. When you’ve finished reading the whole manuscript, go back and revise any sections as necessary. It’s never easy to discard your work and rewrite a scene or chapter, but more often than not, your manuscript will be better for doing so.
My second revision is always for grammar and typos. Read slowly and carefully, you’ll be surprised how many typos, missing periods or commas you’ll pick up. Also read aloud – this will enable you to find jarring transitions, discordant dialogue and clunky sentences. This is also the time when you revise for style.
- Are your sentences of equal length?
- Are they simple or compound? Too many simple sentences and your work can sound amateurish. Too many long sentences and the reader may become bored or lose track of what you are attempting to tell them.
- How times on a page do you start a sentence with the same word?
- Does your sentence have impact? Short, punchy sentences create pace. One-word sentences have power and act as a brake, making the reader it up and take notice.
- Does your manuscript include clichés? If so, remove them, and rephrase the sentence using one of your own making.
- Create and employ metaphors to increase imagery.
- Do you use strong nouns and verbs as opposed to adverbs (-ly words), which are weak? If so, re-write the sentence.
And don’t forget. The same principles should be applied to your synopsis and query letter.
Be sure to check her website for book excerpts and ordering information: