Writing and Speaking

10 Ways to Improve Your Fiction Manuscript

Writing a novel is no easy feat, and there are few that can’t be improved upon. Even after you’ve finished the “final draft”, you’ll likely want to go back and polish, especially since you’ll often catch mistakes on the fifth read that you missed on the first four. If you aren’t certain whether your fiction manuscrpt is the best that it can be, follow these ten ways to improve it.

Sharpen the Dialogue

A common problem with fiction manuscripts is dialogue. If your characters’ conversations are too wordy, they can detract from the overall flow of your novel, so work on trimming and sharpening the dialogue so that it flows easily with the rest of your prose.

One way that you can make this easier is by reading the dialogue outloud to yourself as though you were reading lines in a play. Listen for words or phrases that sound out of place, or that seem extraneous. If it isn’t necessary, cut it.

Bring Characters Into Focus

Another common pitfall among aspiring authors is characterization. Your characters must be “people” to whom your readers can relate, which means making them as lifelike as possible. Your main character doesn’t always have to be brave and intelligent. Perhaps he’s really smart, but he often deals with cowardice.

One of the best ways to bring your characters into focus is to give them little nuances or
idiosyncrasies that make them seem more human. Perhaps one character collects porcelain figureines. Or maybe another character chews on her lower lip when she’s nervous. Be creative!

Check for the Passive Voice

There are some instances in which it is almost impossible to use the active voice in your novel, but make sure that the passive voice occurs as seldom as possible. Read through your manuscript and look for ways in which you can sharpen or even shorten sentences.

EX: Jason went into the kitchen to get himself a soda, but wound up being surprised by his ex- girlfriend, who had broken in through the bay window.

BETTER:
Jason’s thirst sent him into the kitchen for a soda, but he never made it to the refrigerator. His ex-girlfriend was waiting at the table, the bay window hanging open behind her.

Add More Description

If you find that you often write dry, colorless scenes, go back through your fiction manuscript and look for areas in which you can enliven your writing. Description is one of your most powerful tools, but you must be able to describe a scene without using cliches or trite phrasing. Think of new ways to say how black the sky is or how cold your character’s hands are.

You don’t want to go on for ten pages of just description, but use it wisely. Don’t be afraid to stretch the boundaries of your creativity in the pursuit of a perfectly composed scene.

Adjust the Pace

Many aspiring authors mistakenly believe that “fast-paced” is the only way to go. In reality, you can create a vivid scene with slow or medium pacing. Look for areas of your manuscript where you’ve jumped the gun or rushed through an explanation. Broadening your scenes to slow the pace down might actually improve your manuscript.

The best novels are those in which the author uses a mixture of fast and slow pacing. Learn to feel when your writing should hurry the scene along or slow it down to a languid crawl.

Cut & Prune

If your fiction manuscript is seven hundred pages – or even if it just feels too long – you might want to cut and prune your words to take it down a few pegs. Long, drawn-out sentences can be both a blessing and a curse. As a writer, your goal is to get the message across in as few words as possible, without detracting from the overall tone.

Analyze the Ending

Far too many novels are rejected because of the ending. Do you tie up all of the loose ends? Have you resolved any conflict between characters? Does the resolution make sense from a reader’s perspective? Don’t let your dreams die with a poorly-written ending; make sure to spend adequate time analyzing your grand finale until it fits.

Remove Needless Back Story

Your reader doesn’t need to know where your main character went to grammar school or which
parent taught him to drive unless it is an integral part of your story. Providing too much back story can jolt your reader out of the here and now, which will bring your suspense to a screeching halt. Avoid “flashbacks” whenever possible, and try to keep the story in the present.

Look for (and Fill In) Plot Holes

While you might not have realized that you were creating them, your readers will fall directly into plot holes and will think again before crawling out to finish reading your story. Plot holes make for sloppy writing, so make sure that everything makes sense. If your main character had blue eyes at the beginning of the story, make sure you don’t comment on her “emerald orbs” in the middle. The same goes for setting, action and other aspects of your story.

Let Your Manuscript Cool

My final tip for improving your fiction manuscript is to let it cool. Don’t type the last word, print it out and mail it off without a second glance. If you let the manuscript sit for a few weeks (without reading it), you’ll be able to pick out errors much more easily when you go back through.