Top 7 Ways To Ruin A Perfectly Good Manuscript
Date Added: November 6, 2012
I’ll bet you’ve grown weary of writing coaches telling you how to fix your work-in-progress. Ready to break the monotony? Here are some guaranteed ways to ruin a perfectly good manuscript:
1) Let your readers intuit your meaning. (And its inverse, club them senseless with your meaning.)
a. Twist and contort your sentences so that untangling them becomes a maddening puzzle. After all, why was the Rubik’s cube so popular? Because everybody likes a struggle, not to mention the chance to say, “I did it!”
Anybody can shoot for clear, straightforward sentences (been there, done that…yawn). But only the truly brave can aim for prose that leaves readers dizzy and disoriented. Think of what you want to say, and then hide that meaning in thick, jungle sentences.
b. The flip side of this (and it’s loads of fun) is refusing to let your readers use their brains for much of anything.
If it’s good enough to say once, it’s good enough to say again. And again. Don’t trust readers to grasp anything on the first go-around. Say it again. And again. Repeat. (Did I mention again?) Repeat.
The extra benefit of this unnecessary reiteration for your audience is that, while they’re immersed in your story or article, their minds will be free to tiptoe over to really important things, like what’s for dinner or how to tell the woman in the adjacent cubicle that her perfume combo is bringing on an asthma attack and a scorched windpipe.
2) Fill up all the white space on the page.
If you treat writing like coloring in the lines, you’ll have that page filled in no time. White spaces on the page serve as little breaks for the reader’s eye and mind, welcome mental breathers. That space makes the page feel manageable at first glance, before your audience even gets down to deciphering your meaning. Don’t let your readers have that break, dear writer, and you’re already halfway to your goal of ruining your manuscript.
3) Load on the adjectives and adverbs as if you’re earning a commission for each.
Sure, Mark Twain said: “As to the Adjective; when it doubt, strike it out,” but honestly: are you willing to put your money on a guy who predicted the telephone wouldn’t last a month?
Adjectives and adverbs are gaudy, they adorn, they distract. Often they do nothing for the meaning (but detract from it), which is good news if you’re not sure of your meaning in the first place-people will be too busy gawking at your strings of modifiers to notice that you’re not making sense.
4) Water it down, baby: Replace vivid details with bland, forgettable generalizations.
When you present the reader with a specific detail, you offer him/her an image. Who needs that kind of mental coercion? Make things fuzzy and blurry, so the reader can think of anything or nothing at all, so they start to forget your book before they even put it down.
5) Make it predictable: Say No to surprise
Let’s face it-most of life’s surprises stink. Getting fired; hearing from your boyfriend (at the restaurant on your third anniversary the day after you told him you couldn’t live without him) that the relationship is kaput; an unfair Weight Watchers weigh-in on an obviously miscalibrated scale…all surprises, all lousy.
Forget crackling tension and twisty plot turns when you revise your manuscript. Who needs more surprise heaped on an already unpredictable life? Give your audience a plot they can unravel with their eyes closed. That way they can keep their eyes closed when they read. Your readers will thank you for the snooze.
6) Keep your characters flat and unremarkable….or too good to be true.
The swiftest way to kill a manuscript is by creating characters your readers won’t care about. So flatten the life out of your characters: strip them of anything vivid or remarkable or memorable or remotely interesting. Dilute them until they could be anyone (or, better yet, no one).
Especially strip them of flaws. Since all real people are flawed, readers are flawed too. And they like reading about people they can identify with. So if your character is too good to be true, your readers will tune out.
7) Don’t worry about dialogue: Who really says anything interesting anyway?
We’re forever bombarded by words and images. And most of that hurled muck is filtered out, garbled like the adult-speak in Charlie Brown’s world. So do the math: If most of what we hear and read doesn’t stick with us in the first place, why sweat the dialogue on your own page?
Zip through writing dialogue, beefing it up with easy-to-type fillers like um and okay and whatever or ho-hum discussions about the weather.
Focus more on the dialogue tags than the characters’ speech itself. Experts know that the simple “said” provides the least interference with dialogue content. The eye passes over it without slowing down, and therefore what the characters say isn’t slowed in the process.
You can break that reader-friendly, fluid pattern by avoiding “said” (it’s a four-letter word, after all). Weigh the dialogue tags down w …