Even if your book’s ideas are brilliant, its presentation must be up to par as well. Demonstrate your professionalism, clean up your act, and dress your manuscript to impress.
Don’t be clever or cutesy. Take every opportunity to signal to your readers that they are in capable hands. Win their loyalty by being as clear and straightforward as possible in your story’s presentation.
This quick copy-editing checklist includes issues big and small that regularly bedevil writers. Take a look and ensure your book is in optimal shape.
- Avoid echoes and word repetition
Be sure you are not starting and ending all of your chapters in similar ways. Keep readers interested by varying how the text transmits key information.
Keep your sentences interesting. Some writers repeatedly begin with “So…” or “There was a …” or “There were…” when more capivating sentence constructions are readily available. (Rather than, “There was a tree that grew in Brooklyn,” instead, “A tree grew in Brooklyn.”) As Paula Munier says, “A good story just isn’t good enough unless it’s written in good sentences.”
Scan your text for crutch words. Every writer has words or phrases that they unconsciously repeat throughout their work. When you revise, keep an eye out for these and change some instances of their usage. Common crutch words include “some” and “little” and the repeated use of the bland word “things”–a vague usage when more precise wording would be more evocative. (More crutch words can be found here.) Common actions often found repeated in manuscripts include eye rolling and winks.
If you suspect you may be overusing a word, you probably are. Use the “search” function to check, then review and enliven your prose with more varied language.
- Be consistent with tenses
Shifts within a single story from past tense to present tense or back and forth will have vertiginous effects on your readers. A narrative’s tense should be consistent throughout. Prose should flow, not clog. Review your entire manuscript to ensure the tense is consistent throughout.
- POV consistency is crucial
Numerous Career Authors pieces have stressed mastery of this key skill for successful writers.
Readers must have confidence in a narrator’s technical prowess, and unreliable POVs in any work erode that trust. Do not head-hop or be sloppy. Don’t start in first-person Jane’s head and jump to a third person Ralph. POVs must be steady and reliable.
- Identify your characters consistently
If you call Tallulah by her first name in the first paragraph, be consistent and don’t call her by her last name, McSorley, or Mrs. McSorley, in the next paragraph.
Also, review your characters’ names and be sure that they are all memorable and distinct. For example don’t have too many J-names: John and Jen and Jerry and Jacki.
- Make sure your dialogue is properly punctuated
“I will never make that mistake again,” George said—exemplifying proper punctuation.
If dialogue ends with an exclamation point or question mark, get rid of the comma.
“Never will I make that mistake again!” said George.
“Should I make that mistake again?” asked George.
Writers are sometimes at a loss as to how to punctuate dialogue that is interrupted by action. Our reliable friend the em dash provides the solution:
“I promise—” George put his trembling finger in the air “—to never make that mistake again.”
Also, if a new person is speaking, indent a new line of dialogue.
Dialogue tags may sometimes be “screamed” and “shouted” and “yelled” and “whispered,” when nearly always a simpler dialogue tag of “said” is sufficient.
And here are a few tips from Jessica Strawser on how to make your dialogue sing.
- A work is italicized; its parts are in quotes
Book titles are italicized, book chapters use quotation marks.
In Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Cellar, the chapter “Dank Corners” revealed an important clue.
Music albums are italicized, specific songs use quotation marks.
Def Leppard’s new album Rock til you Drop features a great song, “Fried Brains.”
Magazines are italicized, specific articles use quotation marks.
This month’s Mens Health features an article titled “Build Better Bones.”
- Write out numbers to 100
Also, spell numbers that are spoken aloud in dialogue or if they start a sentence.
He went to the story fifty-five times.
He went to the store 223 times.
“I ate a hundred-fifty-five of them,” said George.
Three hundred and twelve are a lot of bananas.
More number rules can be found here.
The duties of a copy-editor are many, and the world would be a much sloppier place in their absence. While diligent copy-editors review much more than the issues explored above, addressing these matters will strengthen your manuscript in both appearance and substance.
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