Keeping the Red out of your Manuscript

Close Liaisons features Barbara Custer's balloons and science fiction.During the last month, I’ve been proofing two manuscripts for NTD books and editing short stories that will appear in Night to Dawn magazine. I prefer Word’s tracking feature, which enables the writer to see what I changed and why. He or she can decide whether to accept or reject the proposed change. Questions or suggestions I might have will appear in a highlighted box or balloon outside the margin. Some tales or pages go back to the author with few or no notes in red; others make the manuscript look like I bled on the pages.

It’s hard to see one’s own mistakes. I’m revving up to approach an editor about my Steel Rose sequel and anticipate seeing my pages bathed in red. Here are five things that prompt me to apply the red ink at Night to Dawn:

  1. 1.     Adverbs. The adverb has its place in the English language, but it makes for BAD fiction writing. They clutter up and weaken the sentences. Most of the time, they’re unnecessary. Don’t tell me the music blasted loudly. “Blast” connotes loudness.
  2. 2.     Passive voice. Passive voice is a stylistic issue that may prevent the reader from understanding what you mean. It also includes linking your action with a “to be” verb, which may weaken the writing. For example in the statement “While the city was threatened, Barbara shopped for balloons,” we don’t know who or what was threatening the city. A better way would be “While the snowstorm threatened the city, Barbara shopped for balloons.” Passive voice may work if you don’t know who was doing the action, but use it with caution.
  3. 3.       Clichés. I’m referring to the old, tired phrases that need to kick the bucket (pun intended). Those sneaky little devils creep into the story as often as balloons hop into my shopping cart at Giant. Too many overused expressions make for a boring tale. Ditch them and replace with original images. Authoright publishes a list of clichés to avoid.
  4. 4.       Knowing the difference between “its” and “it is,” “lie” versus “lay,” “anymore” versus “any more,” “farther” versus “further,” and so on. I believe that most people do; but when you’re overtired, it’s easy to confuse the difference between related words. Start off with fresh coffee.
  5. 5.       Parenthesis and run-on sentences. A run-on sentence occurs when you have two or more independent clauses without a conjunction. Example: I love zombie tales I read them all the time. A comma, period, or coordinating conjunction between the two clauses will fix this. I see a lot of parentheses, too, and in most cases, the sentences work without them. The parenthesis has its place in nonfiction writing, and with fiction, you can use the parenthesis to achieve a desired mood. If I can read the respective sentence without stumbling over the words, you’ve done your job well. Otherwise, I get out the red pen.

About a month ago, I invested in Pro Writing Aid, which has a free version and the premium version for a reasonable price. Their software is tough on passive voice, adverbs, idle words that detract from the sentence, and repetition. I struggle with repetition. Though I catch it on NTD manuscripts, I can’t see it on my own pages. There’s a learning curve, but the Pro Writing Aid makes a great tool for copy editing and proofreading. Not so much for content editing. That’s when you turn to your beta readers and a developmental editor.

Barbara Custer got the red out of Michael Destefano's historical fiction.

About Barbara Custer

Author of: Twilight Healer Steel Rose Life Raft: Earth City of Brotherly Death Close Liaisons Infinite Sight When Blood Reigns Infinite Sight Publisher / Editor of Night to Dawn Books & Magazine
Bookmark the permalink.


  1. This is an excellent article, Barbara. You’re right. It’s hard to see the errors on our own pages that we see on others’ pages. That writing program sounds good.

  2. Nice tip on PWA but I am fortunate to have my wife as my second set of eyes.

  3. So true! I tried changing one word in a cliche, and an editor called me on it. Thanks! Barbara of the Balloons

  4. You are indeed fortunate. Mike used to be my beta reader before he got sick. :)Barbara of the Balloons

  5. Yes. You’re correct in saying a second pair of eyes can help greatly with the editing of your own work. As for cliches, some writers think they can get away with changing a word and thus not have the cliche. For example instead of kicking the bucket you could kicking the pail. Since a pail is a type of bucket the cliche still holds. For example you could put the donkey before the cart instead of the horse and still have the cliche. I have been involved in a number of writing groups and have come across this sort of thing a few times. Also each country can have its own set of cliches. I love a sun burnt country may not be a cliche in the USA but it comes from a well read poem that every school child in Australia probably knows. To change it to I love an un-burnt country doesn’t help since this has been used in anti-fire posters and thus is a definite cliche in its own right.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Subscribe to Blog via Email

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 666 other subscribers