Mopping Up a Messy Manuscript

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Last week, I shared some tips from a panel I recently moderated focused on pacing your novel. This week, I want to share thoughts from another panel focused on identifying and working through trouble spots in your manuscript. This group of experienced authors and publishing professionals had a lot to offer, and I’ll try to capture some of it here.


Are your readers turning pages with boredom? Are they stressed out by non-stop action? We can look at pacing from the macro view, for the overall balance and flow of the story, and with a micro view, giving attention to pace and style of each scene. Both are important. A well-balanced manuscript flows, revealing the right information at the right time. Here’s a link to last week’s article with more on pacing: Pacing Pitfalls and Tips to Tackle Them.

Point of View

In the writing world, point of view refers to who is telling the story. We can choose first or third person, and if third person, a limited or omniscient POV. Here’s an article to help you understand these choices and give some pointers on deciding which is right for your story: A Crash Course on Point of View.

Assuming your story isn’t first person with only one POV character, you’ll be telling pieces of the story from different character perspectives. Be sure you are telling each part of your story from the point of view that will have the most impact.  

Show Don’t Tell

This bit of advice gets thrown around regularly, and I’ll be honest, it took me a while to understand what it really meant. For me, it’s easier to describe its impact on the reader experience. When a writer does too much telling, I feel distanced and disconnected from the story, like I’m reading it from a bird’s eye view, not losing myself in the tale. Many things can pull me out of a story momentarily, but a writing style that uses too much “tell” keeps me out.

I’ve written several posts on how to pull readers in close and hold them there. Here’s one good article with some practical tips to check out: What’s All the Fuss About Show and Tell?

Character Development

If a character falls flat, that’s a big problem in a story. Readers need to be invested in our characters enough to follow them on a journey. They want to see change and growth, not a stagnation, they want a character with depth and nuance, not a one-dimensional stereotype, and they want to see the consequences of actions, both good and bad. Here’s more on working with character development in your manuscript: 3 Character Development Traps and Solutions.

Too Many Characters

This one can be a pitfall for many fantasy and science fiction writers. We’ve got epic plots maybe spanning more than one world, filled with colorful characters who are all precious and interesting to us. Not so much for our readers if we have too many characters for them to keep track of. Confusion breeds frustration, which causes a reader to put down our book.  

George RR Martin managed to invest us in several main characters, each one deeply developed, relevant, and unique. But, look how many books it took for him to do this well! If you are trying to tell your tale in one book, don’t overwhelm your reader with too many characters. Rather, do each character justice by developing them well and showing their journey.


Are the stakes high enough? If they aren’t, a reader won’t stick around to see how things turn out. Here are some questions you should keep front and center when creating stakes: What does your character want? Why do they want it? How do they plan to get it? Who or what stands in the way of them getting it?

There are some tricks of the trade to boost the stakes if you’ve been told you need to. Read here for some suggestions: Raise the Stakes.

So there you have it – a few troublesome trouble spots you might find in your manuscript. Remember, you won’t be able to identity them all yourself, but trusted beta readers, critique partners, and editors will help.

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Tabitha Lord is the award-winning author of the HORIZON series. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, four kids, two spoiled cats, and lovable black lab.

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