The 3 Most Common Mistakes I See in Novel Manuscripts

3105581280_58d4132191_bI’ve worked on all kinds of novels within all kinds of genres and all kinds of readers. However, after a while, I began to notice a few things that always make their way into editorial letters.

One: Too Much Exposition

A number of the manuscripts that make it my desk are considered nearly-perfect by their authors. However, for me, a glaring sign of a draft that needs a serious overhaul is too much exposition. By this, I don’t mean a few extra paragraphs in the beginning or an “info dumped” backstory. Rather, I will get a third of the way through the manuscript and will still be waiting for the story to begin.

As a general rule, the reader should be introduced to the main character, the setting, and the main conflict within the first few pages. And the sooner the better in order to bring us into the story. This also helps the author keep their story on track and well-paced.

Once the back story has been revealed, it can be tempting to hurry and finish the piece, cramming the rest of the plot into the last third of the novel. Don’t cheat your story. Take the time to plan and prewrite so information is given to the reader gradually throughout the novel. It’s a give and take, an elegant dance. Pull the reader along with you to the very end.

What I will say, though, is when this particular hiccup occurs, the exposition probably needed to be written. As much as we like to sit and think about a story, writing is a serendipitous act. Some things just aren’t discovered until we sit down and work with the words. So, authors, go ahead and write what feels right. Just remember to take a step back and think: did I accomplish what I needed to accomplish as concisely and poignantly as possible? And did

Two: Failing Scenes

Scenes need to accomplish something. Period. As an editor, I don’t care how beautiful the prose is or how much the author cherishes the moment, a scene without a clear purpose needs to be reengineered or omitted.

Scenes need to be moving the plot forward, revealing important information, or introducing or resolving conflict. The more an author can accomplish with a scene, the better. This is why short stories are more difficult than they seem. They simply have less real estate.

Always go back and make sure each of your scenes has at leas one definable purpose. If it doesn’t either remove it or see if there’s a way to make it work.

Three: Underdeveloped Minor Characters

Most authors have their main or point of view characters ironed out by the time I get to them. But just because the star is shining, doesn’t mean the ensemble should be left dusty in the corner.

Underdeveloped minor or secondary characters can easily make a story seem two-dimensional. Make sure you’re taking just as much time to get to know all of the characters in your novel. Especially those closest to your main or point of view characters. Even the smallest and seemingly static characters may surprise you. I once wrote a story where the villain’s henchman ended up a tragic hero.

The backstory and motivations of these secondary characters may not even come out in the final draft, but I can guarantee you’ll find some way to use them to enrich your story.

 

My parting wisdom is this:

  1. Write everything you need to write, but don’t be afraid to slash unnecessary beginnings and make sure the story is followed through.
  2. Ensure every scene has a clear purpose.
  3. Take the time to develop minor characters.

 

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