Here are some common mistakes I find in manuscripts.
1. Filter words
These fall into the whole “show don’t tell” category of advice. They can stop the flow of the reader’s momentum. Filter words often include verbs that identify any of the senses: heard, felt, thought, saw, tasted, etc.
Example: I heard the trill of the birds outside.
Correction: The birds trilled outside.
Example: His team was exceptional. He didn’t understand why they kept losing.
Correction: His team was exceptional. Why did they keep losing?
Filter words can remind readers they’re inside of a book, instead of keeping them entrenched in the character’s world. Keep them connected, and they’ll keep reading.
2. Head hopping
This is in all of my favorite fantasy books from the late 90s/early 00s, but it’s a big no-no now. It’s when the viewpoint changes from one character to another within the same scene.
Example: She gazed into his eyes. They were soft and brown with hints of gold. She’d never seen eyes so kind. How could she be so beautiful? Staring at him like he was all that mattered in the world.
Correction: She looked at him with a glowing face, as if she was entranced. How could she be so beautiful? Staring at him like he was all that mattered in the world.
It’s important to stay within a single character’s mind and only comment on what that character would notice. Swapping heads mid-scene can not only cause confusion, but it can also thwart the reader’s ability to connect with your characters.
If three people are talking to you at the same time, are you going to be able to listen equally? I wouldn’t offer an unnecessary distraction to your reader if you can help it. Don’t give them a reason to stop reading.
3. Laissez-faire approach to grammar
Laissez-faire is the french equivalent of “let it go.” Some authors have a phenomenal foundation in grammar. Others are compelling writers who didn’t have the opportunity or interest to nerd out on all the rules.
But it’s something all authors need to know!
Significant grammatical errors are distracting and a lot of work to correct. If you want to self-publish, it’s going to cost you a lot of money for someone to comb through your manuscript, correcting every little detail. And that’s every time you publish. Save yourself some money and learn how to fix errors you consistently make.
If you want to traditionally publish, an agent may reject you because they’re looking for more polished manuscripts. Agents and publishing houses are busier than ever, and they’re looking for clients who aren’t going to create extra work for them. Especially when there are so many authors who can provide a clean manuscript in addition to an interesting story and compelling characters.
Give yourself a fighting chance in this competitive publishing landscape and work on your grammar.
4. Info dumping
This is something I see a lot of in fantasy. It’s hard to invite readers into an unknown world without walloping them over the head with every little detail. But backstory must be integrated, seamlessly. That’s why writing is an art.
Sprinkle background information along, like little breadcrumbs, providing only what is absolutely essential at the time. There may be a complex political system in your book, but if it doesn’t apply to page one, don’t bring it up.
Let your reader grow curious, and as you answer some questions, make sure to ask more.
5. Refusing a second set of eyes
I know many writers have trouble showing their manuscripts to people, and there are a few reasons why. First, many are scared. Second, they can’t afford an editor. Third, they think they don’t need it.
Well, let me tell you, no matter how much we may know how to do something right, that doesn’t mean we can. At least not alone.
Every manuscript needs fresh eyes. If you’re scared, why are you trying to become an author? Isn’t that the entire point of publishing a novel? For the world to see.
If you can’t afford an editor, find as many beta readers and critique partners as you can to give you feedback. Then consider traditional publishing because they pay for the editor. Or if you want to self-publish, find an up-and-coming editor whose rates are more affordable for you.
And if you think you don’t need someone to look at your manuscript at all, you probably aren’t reading this article anyways. Publishing is a collaborative process. No part of it can be done alone.