Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Fixing These Three Mistakes Could Transform Your Manuscript


Crazy good week happening for film option extensions and new deals for debut authors. The best part of being an agent.

Listening To:


With the fall leaves, I finally wrap up four months of travel and two wonderful Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrator (SCBWI) conferences. I’m delighted to be spending the rest of the year right here in Denver.

As a participating agent at the two SCBWI events, I enjoyed doing several read-and-critique sessions. I read participants’ opening sample chapters, then sat down with each writer for a one-one-one discussion.

While doing these critiques, I made a big discovery: I repeatedly wrote the same three comments in the margins. Three beginning-writer mistakes that if resolved could significantly improve the writing.

Here they are:

  • Less is always more. Why say “a grin wiggled and danced across her face” if “she grinned” would suffice?
  • Beginning writers often try too hard with language. If you are always trying to include a perfect turn of phrase in every paragraph, then when you really need one, it won’t stand out. Here’s an example:

The breeze danced across my face, brushing my skin like the gentle tap of a woman’s fingertip, caressing my skin like a kiss.

It’s too much, and it’s all clumped together in one sentence. Even if the writer split it into several sentences, it would still be overkill for a scene moment in which all the reader needs to know is that there’s a breeze.

  • Anchor the reader in the physical space of the scene setting. I see lots of dialogue coming from a disembodied voice floating around in the ether of scenes that lack physical descriptions to solidify who is speaking and from where.

That’s it! Three easily solved craft issues that can make you a significantly stronger writer.

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3 Responses

  1. Victoria Hay said:

    Thank you! You just described what my latest client, a first-time fiction writer, does to fill 200 pages of high drama.

    Let the story carry the drama; let the language tell the story, in the plainest, most direct, cleanest style you can manage.

    “Write Tight! –E. B. White”

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