Cleanup on Page 4: How to Mop-up That Sloppy Manuscript

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Caution: writer at work

So you’ve completed the first draft of your novel. Congratulations! Time to submit it for publication, right? Errr, wrong! If your manuscript is anything like mine, it’s a sloppy mess riddled with plot holes, inconsistent characters, and grammatical errors. Cleanup on page 4! So grab your mop–er–red pen and follow these simple steps to mop-up your manuscript.

Edit for Content:

Before you even think of tackling punctuation or grammar, you’ll need to improve the content of your manuscript. After all, you’d hate to spend hours, if not weeks, editing grammar and punctuation only to cut them out later on. When editing for content aim for:

  • Order of scenes
  • Story elements
  • Plot
  • Characterization
  • Dialogue
  • Point of view
  • Voice
  • Setting
  • Word choice
  • Sentence construction & syntax
  • Smooth transitions
  • Pace

Making substantive edits such as these could improve the strength of your manuscript. Once these edits are complete, you can move on to the next step.

Edit for Mechanics:

This is the step in which you take care of those pesky grammatical errors. Some things to keep an eye out for are:

  • Sentence fragments
  • Misplaced and dangling modifiers
  • Unclear pronoun references
  • Incorrect or unclear pronoun references
  • Incorrect capitalization
  • Faulty parallelism
  • Omitted or extra commas
  • Comma splices
  • Confused Words
  • Misspellings

Etc. Etc. Etc.

Once you’ve made these corrections, your manuscript should be in pretty good shape. If you are inexperienced in making substantive edits, you might benefit from studying The Elements of Style, a prescriptive American English writing style guide in numerous editions. The original was composed by William Strunk, Jr. in 1920, but it remains relevant today. For others, like me, mechanics are more or less a headache. Thank goodness for editors, though they can be costly. There are plenty of free resources available to help you improve those skills such as the Purdue Owl website and Grammar Girl, to name a few. (Links to your left)

Anyway, I hope you found this post helpful, and if you did, please feel free to share with your friends on Twitter, Facebook, or WordPress. Thanks for stopping by!

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7 thoughts on “Cleanup on Page 4: How to Mop-up That Sloppy Manuscript

  1. In the throes of final edits on my novel A THEORY OF EXPANDED LOVE (Light Messages Publishing, JUne 2015). And I must say – you can’t write with this ‘editing hat’ on . . . you’d never write anything! But it’s sooo important to go over and over, with a different mind frame (i.e. plot, characters, continuity or grammar & punctuation) each time. Thanks for the reminders, Kylie! The temptation is great to let it go, but you have to go back over and over . . . .

    • Oh yeah! I’m a huge supporter of going all Elsa on the draft (let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore!) but afterward it’s time to be critical.

      I have a bad tendency to edit as I write, but that’s not good for development. Raw emotion absorbs best in the draft so does inspiration. Edits can always come later, but they must eventually come!

      • I need to re-read Napoleon Hill sometime soon. He has so many wise nuggets of knowledge that can be the basis of your ability to increase your personal and business wealth. In my own life, it is only when I have no fear that I make money. It is weird, but I am working on reipacitlng this on a regular basis. Thanks for the great info!

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