Elizabeth Ludwig’s first novel, Where the Truth Lies, which she co-authored with Janelle Mowery, was released in spring of 2008 from Heartsong Presents: Mysteries, an imprint of Barbour Publishing. This was followed in 2009 by “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” part of a Christmas anthology collection called Christmas Homecoming, also from Barbour Publishing.
Books two and three of Elizabeth’s mystery series, Died in the Wool, and A Black Die Affair, respectively, are slated for release in 2010 from Barbour Publishing. Also in 2010, her first full-length historical novel Love Finds You in Calico, California will be released from Summerside Press.
What do I mean by fatal? These are the kind of mistakes that get your manuscript rejected. In an effort to help you steer clear of the rejection pile, I’m going to list a few of the more common errors, along with a few helpful hints on how you can avoid making them again and again.
The biggest mistake I see involves Point of View (POV for short). New authors, especially, make the mistake of thinking their writing should emulate what they see on TV—scenes hopping from one to the next, jumping from one character’s viewpoint to another, sometimes in the same paragraph, etc. In a nutshell, POV is what one character thinks, feels, sees, hears, and smells. A general rule of thumb is to stay inside one character’s POV for the duration of a scene, only changing into a different POV after you have inserted a section or chapter break. After each paragraph, ask yourself, is this something my POV character can physically know or think? If the answer is no, check for a POV slip. Editors want to know that you have a firm grasp and understanding of POV.
Plot and structure holes are the second most common error I see. Think of your favorite movie. What did you like about it? Most likely, it involved a main character who sets out to achieve one major event or goal. Many things happen along the way, but the goal remains the same. From start to finish, the viewer is left wondering whether or not the main character will accomplish their goal. Take, for example, one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. In it, two characters, a boy and a girl, are separated from each other by circumstances neither of them can control. From the point of their separation on, the viewer wonders if they will somehow find their way back to each other. Events strive to keep them apart, but always, they struggle to come back together until the film’s final resolution.
Plotting is a difficult concept to grasp, which is why having a timeline is so beneficial. Before you even begin writing, I suggest you sit down and write yourself a detailed timeline, always keeping in mind who your main character is and what they hope to accomplish. This way, your story never strays far from the original plot.
A third major problem is the use of passive voice as opposed to active voice. Passive voice involves past tense and the main character viewing or observing events as they happen. Active voice is more immediate and involves the main character actually doing or saying something. Editors watch for the use of active voice, which is why grasping this concept is so important. Key word indicators to passive voice are ‘was’ and ‘had’ in all of their forms. Look at the following example:
Passive: She was glad to see him.
Active: She squealed with delight at the sight of him.
Both examples say she is happy to see him, but one involves immediacy and action.
Lastly, be sure to check your manuscript for things like word/phrase repetition, use of adverbs (or ly words, as I like to say), and incorrect punctuation and grammar. Mechanics are important in your writing, and editors want to know that you’ve taken the time to learn basic techniques before they go deeper to check for a good story with a strong plot. If you’re not certain on the rules, invest in a good book—the Chicago Manual of Style for example, or consider having your work professionally edited. As someone who has reaped the benefits of having gone this route, I can tell you the things you will learn far outweigh the cost, and you’ll be able to take those tools with you and apply them to every future work.
And that’s it! Still have some specific editing questions you’ve always wanted to ask? Fire away, and I’ll do my best to answer them all. As a special holiday bonus, anyone who leaves a comment or asks an editing question will be entered to win a copy of my Christmas anthology, Christmas Homecoming, from Barbour Publishing.