Common Errors in Fiction Manuscripts

Common Errors in Fiction Manuscripts
In varying degrees I’ve previously written how to prepare a manuscript for submission to Five Rivers. Given the experience both Robert and I have had over the past few years, an updated discussion of some items to watch when submitting fiction seems warranted.

In the next few posts I will address the nine problems we encounter most frequently:

  1. The use of passive rather than active verbs
  2. Redundant detail in describing body parts, and/or attributing action to them.
  3. Point of view (POV) and environmental detail.
  4. Purple prose.
  5. Lack of thorough research.
  6. Less is More: Sex/love scenes; neologisms in SF.
  7. Overdone dystopia.
  8. Punctuation: use of single quotes, double quotes and italics, 5R house style, dialogue, proper suffix for adverbs.
  9. Formatting the manuscript

Passive versus active verbs
The use of passive instead of active verbs is a sure fire way to slow or even stop the action and tension in your story. Too often a writer migrates to passive voice, writing a sentence something like:

She looked up at the sky and there were birds flying overhead.

There isn’t any tension in this sentence, and were you to read this as an opening line of a story, you’d likely yawn and look at the next book. Why is it important to maintain tension in your writing? For exactly the reason I’ve implied above: to keep the interest of your reader, and to create an environment that fully engages the senses of your audience.

Rewritten in an active voice, the sentence reads:

She looked at the sky where three birds flew.

Now you not only have an active voice, but have shortened the length of your sentence from 12 words to nine. By doing this you’ve created a sharp image, each word precise. And by creating short, sharp sentences you create a staccato rhythm that enhances the tension.

That is not to say longer, elegant phraseology is to be avoided. Quite the contrary. But rather you must determine where to use shorter sentences for tension, and longer to create drama and environment.

Comments? Questions? We’d love to hear from you.