Blogger: Mary Keeley
Writers have so much craft or technique to master. If you are a novelist, you’re consumed with things such as adding more tension or deepening the character development. If you write nonfiction, you’re concerned with organizing your supporting arguments for a convincing conclusion. Along the way it’s easy to miss smaller mistakes. Editors will overlook an occasional mistake, but more than several detract from your manuscript and may earn a rejection. Today I’ll give you 10 tips for a clean manuscript that address the most frequent mistakes I see.
Authors who have been published for years fall into some of these errors too, but back when they got their first contract, the market wasn’t as tight. Publishers had a larger editorial staff that was able to work with manuscripts in greater depth. However, in today’s publishing economy, overloaded editors often reject proposals based on these same errors, concluding the writer isn’t ready for publication. You can reduce the chance of this happening by correcting these common word usage and sentence structure problems.
Common errors in word usage:
- Fewer vs. less. Fewer refers to number; less refers to amount or degree. Examples: That jar contains fewer jellybeans. That jar is less full.
- Who vs. whom. Who is the nominative form; whom is the predicate form. Example #1: Who wrote this piece? This piece was written by whom?
- That vs. who/whom. Use that in reference to an object. Use who/whom when referring to a person. Example: John found the book that was in the library. John found his friend, who was in the library. John returned the book to whom it belonged.
- That vs. which. A restrictive clause calls for that. Which is used in nonrestrictive clauses and requires a comma in front of it because it is additional information that doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. Examples: Sue bought the dress that fit her best. Sue bought the dress that fit her best, which happened to be on sale.
- Anxious or eager. The word anxious is a form of the word anxiety and should be used only in that context. Example: I am anxious about the appointment with my doctor. I am eager to go to the concert.
Sentence structure issues:
- Wrong order of thoughts results in a sentence that’s cumbersome to read and hard to understand the main thought.
- Using the wrong word or phrase stops short of nailing the intended point.
- Packing too much into one sentence becomes a chore for readers when they have to re-read it in order to grasp everything being said.
- Repetition of a word or phrase makes readers bored. It’s best to not repeat a descriptive word within several paragraphs.
- Lack of variation in the length of sentences is okay if you want to put readers to sleep; it’s monotonous. A string of short sentences or incomplete sentences is choppy as well. You’ll lose readers’ attention when you have a string of long sentences.
These tips may appear to point to minor things compared to character motivation and plot issues, but it pays to watchful for them. The reason is that relaxed email and blogging style and texting jargon can lead to bad habits in professional writing. In creative writing for publication, these 10 tips for a clean manuscript could make all the difference in impressing an editor with your professionalism. When in doubt, turn to the latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style.
This list isn’t exhaustive. What additional word usage errors do you see frequently? Which mistakes are you prone to make? Which ones have been unclear to you until now?
Writers, be alert for these 10 common word usage and sentence structure mistakes. Click to Tweet.
Editors spot common mistakes that detract from your manuscript. Watch for these ten. Click to Tweet.