Improve Your Novel

There are two parts to a novel: Great story and great mechanics. You need both to be successful. This is not my opinion, but rather a fact. Every author has ideas for an entertaining book. The hard part is getting it to “read like a book.”

I went through this same exercise in 1995. It was tough, but once I learned all the “do’s and dont’s” of writing, things got much easier for me. At first, you will be overwhelmed and it will be time consuming. However, this exercise will pay off big for author’s willing to put in the work.

DO NOT try to fix these mistakes all at once. You won’t learn anything and you will not catch them all. I’m sorry, but one at time is the only way to improve.

* Go over your manuscript and look for anywhere you switched point of views. This is the biggest mistake new authors make and cause for rejection letters. Anywhere you have a character point of view switch, do a page break or chapter ending.

* Make sure your manuscript is written in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person the entire book. (Experienced authors sometimes use both 1st and 3rd, but if you have written less than five novels, do not try this.)

* Anyplace in your manuscript where you “told” the story, rather than “showed” the story needs to be fixed. For example, if you said, “Jane was angry at Tom.” Fix it to, “Jane lifted the card table and dumped the vodka tonics on his lap.” Show that Jane was angry, rather than saying it.

* Go through your manuscript and get rid of every adverb that follows dialogue. Examples: “I hate you!” Jane said angrily. “But I care about our relationship,” Tom replied calmly. “LY” words are for the lazy author. Describe their emotions or actions. “I hate you!” Jane said. She flipped the chair and eyed the exit. Tom stood, reaching his hand out toward hers. “But I care about our relationship.” (Notice the difference?)

* Go through your manuscript and look for overuse of adjectives. Example of an author pushing description down a reader’s throat: “Jeff was wise not to battle the bright, hot, sunny, day, because it was so dusty, yet smoggy.”

* Look for places that you can use the five senses: sight, hear, taste, touch, or smell. This will bring out a stronger image for the reader.

* Get rid of 90% of your exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!

* Now go back and get rid of 5% more of your exclamation marks!!!!

* Go through your manuscript and delete every time you said, “very.” While you are at it, look for all the times you said, “and then.”

* Look for things in your book that have nothing to do with your book. If Jane and Tom decided to go on a cruise, that better have something to do with the story. This goes for every sentence, every word. Do not put fluff in your book to build the word count.

* “Luck” should not have anything to do with why your characters achieved something. The plot should not come together because of “chance.” Reach deep and develop reasons for everything, no matter how much “fiction” you feel is necessary.

* Take out all cliche’ phrases. “I’m in the twilight zone.” Or, “He was wondering if this was just a nightmare and he would wake up soon.” Describe how the character feels.

* Find all the places you said in dialogue, “God, Lord, Jesus, and Christ.” Delete all but one or two. This has nothing to do with offending others, but rather the author attempting to create forced drama through a reaction by the character. Do not force or tell…describe and show.

* Flashbacks tend to slow a book down and becomes confusing. If flashbacks are necessary to the story, then make sure the reader knows what is going on right away. If the reader does not realize it is a flashback in the first line, then fix it.

* Research what you do not know. For example, if your character is a pilot, research everything a pilot does, goes through, feels, and experiences. If you have a main setting in Tampa, but you’ve never been to Tampa, do your research. Get the street names correct, restaurants, bars, and even the local gas stations correct when needed. This includes housing and neighborhoods. If your character has a basement in Florida, then you did not do enough research.

* Look for places where you wrote that your character’s eyes were blue in chapter 1, but wrote their eyes were green in chapter 7. (By the way, “flashing green eyes” is being overused by authors…fyi.) Keep good notes throughout your book. I do not write outlines, but when I’m done with a novel, I have pages and pages of notes on the side, so I can keep track of everything that happened and the description of characters and places.

* Delete any sentences you spoke in another language and re-write in English. We are all impressed that you know German, but the reader will be irritated.

* Read your manuscript out loud. If you stutter in a place, so will the reader.

There’s more, but I’m running out of room. So let me give you one more to work on.

* Go over your manuscript and look for “repeats.” There are three forms of repeats: Words, ideas, and phrases.  

Words: Get out your thesaurus and change things up. For example, there are 11 different meanings behind the word, “pull.” You could be saying things like, “Tom pulled a muscle,” and “Jane pulled apart the table,” and “Eddy pulled in a deep breath,” and “Joe pulled the bank job,” and “The truck was pulling the trailer,” and “He pulled a gun out.” Take the time to mix in different words.

Also, character names, along with he/she are repeated throughout your book. This can be limited by focusing on description as much as possible.

Ideas: This can also be called, “plot ideas.” Usually when the author is trying to set up a great finish or a big twist in the story, an idea is repeated to make sure the reader understands the great finish or big twist. If your descriptions are accurate, then don’t worry about shoving the same idea at the reader and reminding them over and over what is happening.

Phrases:Telling the reader fifty times how upsetting the breakup between Jane and Tom was, can be annoying. Another common mistake is when the author reminds the reader that the character is shocked and confused.

Just remember that repeats happen when the author feels deep in their heart that the reader won’t understand what is going on. Repeats also happen to the lazy author who won’t take the time to change a sentence or word. If you are aware of this, then it should not happen.

Wait, I got one more!!! (Sorry, take away two of those exclamation marks. In fact, take all three away, it wasn’t necessary.)

When someone reads your book, they should not be able to tell what is fiction and what is real. Yes, that includes vampires, space ships, serial killers, and yellow dragons. If the author writes a great fiction novel, the reader will actually start to believe in the story. Everything you wrote, seems possible that it could happen to anyone.

Please do not say, “That’s what an editor is for. To fix these mistakes.” It’s not the editor’s job to make you a better author.

Take the time to learn how to write at great story…and improve a great story.









Ron Knight

“Author of “2-10”

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  1. Ron, once more you are a big help. I used this with my manuscript and help to make it just out and draw you in. Thanks so much

  2. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  3. suzanne says:

    You are right! (!)….I use too many of these!!!!!!!