Practical Magic: Prepping Your Manuscript for CPs | Sara Biren

Writing is a special kind of magic. We’ve all (hopefully) had those transcendent moments of pure inspiration, when the pieces of the puzzle fall together, when you’ve put the exact right words in the exact right order and have created the exactly right magic. Magic that we’re excited to share with the worldstarting with critique partners. 

But we all know that writing isn’t all fun and games all the time. Writing is hard, and sometimes, we have to focus on the more practical aspects of our craft. You know, proper grammar and punctuation, viable stakes, authentic character arcs, plot. Even though you’re excited to have typed those magical words—THE END—before you hit send on that email to your CPs, take time for some practical magic. Today, I’m going to share tips for preparing your manuscript for your critique partners.

Find and Replace.

Let's start at the level of the word. Before you send off any manuscript, you should use the FIND function to take inventory of any overused words, crutch words, passive verbs, adverbs, and gerunds/participles. As you scroll through the results, ask yourself if you can make the sentence stronger by changing or eliminating the word. Some examples:
  • Just - I am a just queen. It is my number one overused word. And there are many others out there - you know yourself as a writer, so look for those words. I *just* (haha) ran a search for it in my current WIP and found it 143 times* or, because my draft is at a ridiculous word count of more than 108,000 words, 3 percent (which seems a bit low, actually).
  • Actually - See what I did there? Crutch words like actually, basically, literally, etc. should be used sparingly.
  • Adverbs - See what I did there? Run a search for -ly. Of course you'll get words like fly or family, but as you scroll through the results, you will find instances where the sentence is much more powerful without the adverb.
  • Was/Were/Is/Am - Again, try to find a way to make the sentence stronger. Is the sentence passive (The necklace was given to me by my aunt vs. My aunt gave me the necklace)? Is the verb followed by another verb in the -ing form? (Gideon was wearing a black T-shirt vs. Gideon wore a black T-shirt).
A famous writerly quote by Mark Twain states that "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." I'd take that a step further and say that sometimes NO word is better than the almost right word, especially if it's just.

*I sent the draft to my CPs last Tuesday, complete at 106k words, 81 of them just.

Read your manuscript aloud.

Taking the time to read your manuscript aloud is such an important part of the process and serves many purposes. Those pesky overused words will jump out at you (especially if you've used the same word five times in one paragraph). You'll catch spelling errors, missing or incorrect words, awkward sentence structure, run-on sentences, etc., that you may have glossed over while re-reading your draft for the ninety-eighth time. You'll realize that in the first chapter, your MC's best friend had blue eyes, but in chapter five, they'd suddenly become green. Unnatural or stilted dialogue will clock you over the head as you stumble through it.

Reading your MS aloud takes a lot of time, especially if you do it in one sitting, and you may feel self-conscious about it, but it's worth your time and any embarrassment.

Make it pretty.

Your critique partners (and beta readers) deserve a clean, crisp manuscript. Make it pretty. Double check the formatting. Are the chapter headings correct and consistent? You will spend a great deal of time obsessing over the format of your manuscript before you send it to an agent, for example, so why not take the time now and deliver a quality product to your critique partners? For all types of manuscript formatting, I highly recommend the book Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino.

Set expectations.

What type of critique do you expect from your CP? What types of comments and suggestions are you looking for? Do you want them to focus solely on content and the elements of fiction or would you also like them to note issues at the level of the wordspelling, grammar, punctuation?

When do you expect to hear back from them? Does your deadline work for them? Find out how much time they need to do a thorough job and be flexible if you can.

What does your critique partner expect in return? When will their manuscript be ready for you?

Make a wishlist.

Whenever someone sends me a manuscript to edit or critique, I always ask for their wishlist. What are their top questions or concerns with the manuscript? Is there something in particular on which I should focus as I read?

Put together a wishlist for your manuscript. Think about your trouble spots or plot holes and call those out in your list. If it's not working for you, it probably won't work for them, either. Your CP will appreciate the guidance.

I hope these practical tips help as you prepare your manuscript for your critique partners. Putting in the time now to polish and shine your work will benefit both you and your CPs in the long run. Good luck as you work your magic!

The original version of this post was previously published at the now-defunct YA Buccaneers and has been updated and revised for YAOTL.


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