Decluttering Your Manuscript | Teresa Pollard

Making room for what’s important

simson-petrol-110900-unsplashI’ve recently sold my 3 bedroom/2 bath house and moved in with my daughter. I’ve had to condense my belongings to what would fit into one bedroom half the size of the previous one. I’ve sold or given away things I’d been collecting for most of my sixty-eight years. It made me ponder what were the most important things to me?

It occurred to me my writing must be vetted the same way. Today’s readers don’t want to wade through clutter. They don’t have the time! I tend to wonder if Charles Dickens or Jane Austen would find a publisher today. They violated virtually every tenet I’m about to give. But we don’t write for their audience. We write for ours.

Delete dialog tags

How do we start? First, strike out every “he said,” “she replied,” “he answered,” etc. in the work. Let the dialog speak for itself. Today’s deep point of view allows for no distractions. I was always taught these were “invisible” words the reader’s eye skipped right over, but they nevertheless maintained the clarity of the narrative. But somewhere along the line, they not only became visible, but taboo to most readers, and therefore to most publishers.

Weed out weasel words

Next, use your computer word search function to find your most frequently used but unnecessary words, such as “that,” “even,” etc. We all have our quirks, and they show up in our work more often than we’d imagine. One of mine I have to watch out for is “actually.” I use and erase it way too much! Toss them all out!

Now look for any “ly” adverbs, and replace them with stronger verbs. He didn’t walk slowly. He plodded or trudged. She didn’t sing beautifully. She brought tears to the old man’s eyes. Notice the second sentence isn’t any shorter than the first. It’s longer. But it gives extra information the reader may not have had before. Maybe the old man hadn’t cried in years. Maybe this was a breakthrough for him. Do the same thing with other adjectives and adverbs. Actions do speak louder than words, so why whisper when your verbs can shout without seeming to raise your voice?

Make each scene carry its weight

Finally, go through the manuscript scene by scene and ask yourself, “Is this scene necessary? How does it advance my story?” If it doesn’t, delete it! Some writers I know write trilogies, and they introduce the characters from the second and third novels in the first. That’s fine! But please write one novel at a time. Keep the focus where it belongs. Don’t get sidetracked by non-essentials.

None of these tips is guaranteed to get your manuscript published. It’s the content that remains afterwards that will determine this. It will, however, give the manuscript a better “curb appeal” to attract an agent or publisher. Good luck, and God bless!


FB Headshot for books-FBTeresa Pollard is from Richmond, Virginia, and was saved at a young age. She has a Master of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing from Hollins College, and has served as a Sunday School teacher and children’s worker for most of the last forty years. She is the author of Tokens of Promise and Woman of Light and wrote Not Guilty and Not Ashamed with co-author, Candi Pullen. Originally published by HopeSprings Books, these are now available on Amazon. Woman of Light was a 2016 finalist for a Selah award.

She now resides in Dacula, Georgia. A member of the North Georgia chapter of ACFW, check out her blog at http://teresatalkstaboo.wordpress.com, or follow her on Facebook at Teresa Pollard, Author.

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