Sunday, May 12, 2013

Prescription for a Healthy Manuscript

An Initial Prescription for a Healthy Manuscript

Part 1 of an ongoing series by Dr. Editor, M.D. (Manuscript Doctor):

Picture walking into a doctor’s office with an ailment and having the learned professional say, “Yeah, you are sick.”

“Well, yes,” you say, “that’s why I’m here, but what is wrong with me and how do I get better?”

You don’t want to hear, “Haven’t a clue and here’s your bill.”

This is what happens when critiques don’t tell the writer the “whys” behind all those red lines. They indicate the “sickness” but don’t come through with a “prescription” for wellness. Don’t go to that doctor anymore. Get a good one.

As an editor, my job is to ‘cure the patient.’ Get him back to wellness so that he can be a healthy individual. Run fast, jump far. Or in this case, make the New York Times Best Seller List. Notice I didn’t say make him over with replacement parts of my choosing.

In order to do that, I need to give my patient an action list for how to get, and stay, healthy.  For example, feeling lethargic, bored? Has life just lost its zip? Let me see your verbs. Are they action verbs, full of strength and vitality? Or are you stifled by energy-robbing passive voice and weighed down with was’es and “had’s”?

Now that I have examined your verbs, let me see your adverbs . . . all those words with the “ly” endings like quietly, softly, urgently. As they say in poker, “That is a tell.” And my patients should never “tell.” My patients should only “show.” My patients don’t live happily. My patients walk around with a smile on their face and a bounce to their step and hum the soundtrack to Iron Man II. 

Now you tell me, which description created a better picture in your mind?

Are people laughing at you behind your back? 

Let’s take a look at your chronically misplaced participial phrases and overwrought modifiers. Do you have everyone in the State of Texas coming over to Aunt Judy’s for barbeque when you really mean that you are barbequing at Aunt Judy’s just like everyone else in the State of Texas? And then there is your habitual abuse of adjectives. To remain healthy, please only use two at a time. It is easy to OD. The little devils are terribly addictive. Pick your two favorite. Delete the rest. Modifiers, when misused or overused, create a comedic atmosphere in your text. Great for farce. Death for thriller, drama, horror or romance.

So here is my initial prescription for action points to start to create a healthy manuscript:
  • Do a self-examination of your verbs. Every time you find “was” “is” “had” “has” “have” – examine the sentence. Can you rewrite it with a verb of action?
  • Scour your text for the “ly” endings. Take them out. Figure out a way to write that sentence with a description that allows the reader to figure out for themselves if your character spoke quietly or moved urgently. 
  • Remember that the modifier, be it a phrase or a single word, should follow immediately after or immediately precede what is being modified. This makes for some awkward sentences if the phrases are too complex. In which case, fall back and KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid.
  • When you are tempted to have a golden, fragrant, waist-length, wind-blown, curling mane – STOP! Back up. Pick your favorite two and go with it.

Next week:  Diets – Words you should stop consuming for the health of your manuscript.
Healthy writing! ~*~  Dr. Editor, Manuscript Doctor
“Dr. Editor” is also known as Patricia A. Knight, erotic romance author.

Hers To Command – June 4, 2013

Patricia A. Knight is the pen name for an eternal romantic who lives in Dallas, Texas surrounded by her horses, dogs and the best man on the face of the earth – oh yeah, and the most enormous bullfrogs you will ever see. Word to the wise: don’t swim in the pool after dark.

I love to hear from my readers and can be reached at or Or send me an email at Check out my latest “Hunk of the Day,” book releases, contests and other fun stuff on my face book page:

If you enjoyed Hers To Command, look for Sophi DeLorion’s story, Hers To Choose, coming out in mid-July 2013 and Steffania Rickard’s tale, Hers To Cherish coming in early August, 2013.


  1. Fantastic advice! Thanks for sharing this. It was amazingly, brilliantly, fantastically, and supercalifragilisticexpialidosciously helpful.

    1. Delighted this was useful for you. Travis has kindly invited me to post regularly, so every Monday tune in for more prescriptions for healthy writing.

      Regards, Dr. Editor

  2. I edit for some folks and you touch on exactly the best feedback they give me--explaining WHY. Giving them all the little tricks--like avoiding the complex compound sentence and for God's sake never put two of the things next to each other! Defining what the passive voice is, as well as making a distinction between passive and active verbs. Just as rules of thumbs about pronouns (use them as little as possible) and the word "that" (nine times out of ten, just don't go there). Kudos!

    1. Patricia gives me back my manuscripts with all kinds of red lines, and the right side column filled with comments, lectures, and sometimes hilarious notes.

      And I needed every one of her edits and observations.

      Regardless of how thick my skull is, she keeps pounding these ideas in, a marvelously patient woman.


  3. I find adverbs an ailment of using the word "said" as many editors say we should do. They say it is a word we don't see, but I do and I dislike constant use of it, even if Jane Austen didn't.

    1. Said is more a style choice. I have read wonderful novels that use it, and those that don't. Me personally, I don't.

      That's one of the tricks to editing, is finding editors/critiques who mesh with your writing style.

    2. Hi Shane, Ah if only the insidious little buggers would confine themselves to dialog tags. (Those little "tags" at the end of dialog like, "she said, quietly.") Unfortunately, that is not where they do the most harm. They weasel their way into your text, a la, "she sat quietly and listened," in the most innocuous way and rob it of descriptive vitality. This is where I object to the use of adverbs the most. The author has TOLD you not SHOWN you. Make sense?

      Regards, Dr. Editor

  4. These are excellent tips. I'm looking forward to next week's diets.

  5. Loved this! Great advice. I overuse the was set. when self editing I am always looking for them!

  6. Very useful advice, especially the over-described curly mane!

  7. True- using SAID is a house style grammar issue. The Pub I write for insists on those dialogue tags. I have mixed feelings about it.