The ball whooshed through the air toward my son who waited with a wide stance and a baseball bat near his shoulder. He swung...and missed. The next time he was up to bat, the same thing happened and, again, he struck out.
What happened? His form looked great. His swing? On time and powerful.
At the next practice, the coach came up to him and said, "You're pulling back a fraction of a second on your swing." Then he showed him the minor adjustment to make, and my son's strike-out streak ended. The next game, he made it on base every time.
It occurred to me that writing is the same way. We study craft books, articles, and workshops to fix the big problems, but often, minor adjustments can have major impact. Often we understand how to create a fascinating plot and we have dynamic characters in our head, but little things in our manuscripts prevent us from making it to base with an agent or editor. We're a fraction away from hitting the ball, and we don't even know it.
Minor Adjustments Worth Evaluating in Your Manuscript:
* Have I varied sentence structure? Read a page out loud to verify the writing doesn't sound sing-song-ish or choppy.
* Am I repeating phrases and words? This is where critique partners come in handy. They'll pick up on any offenders.
* Do my modifiers modify the right word? Take half an hour to brush up on basic grammar.
* Have I used sharp, unique words? Avoid vague, generic descriptions.
Beginning of Each Scene:
* Have I given enough information to ground the reader in setting? (Who, what, where, when?)
* Does the reader have a clear reason for reading this scene? (Why? or Scene goal?)
* Does the reader know whose point of view the scene is in?
* Have I shown the main character through a mixture of dialogue, action, and thoughts? All three are necessary.
Showing vs. Telling:
* Do any passages take me out of the character's head? If yes, could I be telling instead of showing? Find a way to get the information across through the character.
* Am I slowing down dialogue with too many character thoughts, descriptions, or action tags? Pare down.
* Could the dialogue benefit with more thoughts from the character, descriptions, or action tags? We're aiming for a full-bodied read. Dialogue alone is necessary in some scenes but too bare-bones for others.
* In any scene with only one character (usually a sequel), have I included actions to ground the reader? If the character sits on the couch and ruminates over a fight, have her physically doing something every few paragraphs as she broods.
* Is the tension mounting at the right times in the book? Tension should ebb and flow, growing stronger as the book progresses.
* Is this manuscript formatted to basic standards (1" margins, easy-to-read 12 pt. font such as Times New Roman, double-spaced, proper header, chapters begun on new page)?
I know I've left out many other areas we can evaluate the strengths of our books. Will you need to adjust every detail I listed? Of course not! Chances are, you're agile at most of them. But one or two might have you wondering, and those are the ones worth looking into.
With thousands, if not millions, of writers trying to get published, and many writers deciding to self-publish, it's worth spending time on minor adjustments. Clean, powerful writing can only help us stand out from the crowd!
What minor adjustment has made a major impact on your writing?
Have a fantastic Friday!!