March 14, 2011

Guest Post: Ron Knight

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:41 am


Please welcome Ron Knight to the blog. Ron shares an overview for revision with lots of meat and heft to it. I look forward to hearing what Suspense Your Disbelief readers might do with these tips!

Ron Knight

Improve Your Novel

There are two parts to a novel: Great story and great mechanics. You need both to be successful. This is not my opinion, but rather a fact. Every author has ideas for an entertaining book. The hard part is getting it to “read like a book.”

This same exercise you are about to read, I went through in 1995. It was tough, but once I learned all the “do’s and don’ts” of writing, things became much easier for me. At first, you will be overwhelmed and it will be time consuming. Nevertheless, this exercise will pay off big for authors willing to put in the work.

DO NOT try to fix these mistakes all at once. You will not learn anything that way. Besides, you cannot catch all your mistakes the first time.

* Go over your manuscript and look for anywhere you switched point of views. This is the biggest mistake new authors make and cause for rejection letters. Anywhere you have a character point of view switch, do a page break or chapter ending.

* Make sure your manuscript is written in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person the entire book. (Experienced authors sometimes use both 1st and 3rd, but if you have written less than five novels, do not try this.)

* Anywhere in your manuscript where you “told” the story, rather than “showed” the story needs to be fixed. For example, if you said, “Jane was angry at Tom.” Fix it to, “Jane lifted the card table and dumped the vodka tonics on his lap.” Show that Jane was angry, rather than saying it.

* Go through your manuscript and get rid of every adverb that follows dialogue. Examples: “I hate you!” Jane said angrily. “But I care about our relationship,” Tom replied calmly. “LY” words are for the lazy author. Describe their emotions or actions. “I hate you!” Jane said. She flipped the chair and eyed the exit. Tom stood and reached his hand out toward hers. “But I care about our relationship.” A tear escaped from his eye. (Notice the difference?)

* Go through your manuscript and look for overuse of adjectives. Example of an author pushing description down a reader’s throat: “Jeff was wise not to battle the bright, hot, sunny, day, because it was so dusty, yet smoggy.”

* Look for places that you can use the five senses: sight, hear, taste, touch, or smell. This will bring out a stronger image for the reader.

* Get rid of 90% of your exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!

* Now go back and get rid of 5% more of your exclamation marks!!!!

* Go through your manuscript and delete every time you said, “very.” While you are at it, look for all the times you said, “and then.”

* Look for things in your book that have nothing to do with your book. If Jane and Tom decided to go on a cruise, that better have something to do with the story. This goes for every sentence and every word. Do not put fluff in your book to build the word count.

* “Luck” should not have anything to do with why your characters achieved something. The plot should not come together because of “chance.” Reach deep and develop reasons for everything, no matter how much “fiction” you feel is necessary.

* Take out all cliché’ phrases. “I’m in the twilight zone.” Or, “He was wondering if this was just a nightmare and he would wake up soon.” Describe how the character feels.

* Find all the places you said in dialogue, “God, Lord, Jesus, and Christ.” Delete all but one or two. This has nothing to do with offending others, but rather the author attempting to create forced drama through a reaction by the character. Do not force or tell…describe and show.

* Flashbacks tend to slow a book down and become confusing. If flashbacks are necessary to the story, then make sure the reader knows what is going on right away. If the reader does not realize it is a flashback in the first line, then fix it.

* Research what you do not know. For example, if your character is a pilot, research everything a pilot does, goes through, feels, and experiences. If you have a main setting in Tampa, but you’ve never been to Tampa, do your research. Get the street names correct, restaurants, bars, and even the local gas stations correct when needed. This includes housing and neighborhoods. If your character has a basement in Florida, then you did not do enough research.

* Look for places where you wrote that your character’s eyes were blue in chapter one, but wrote their eyes were green in chapter two. (By the way, “flashing green eyes” is being overused by authors…fyi.) Keep good notes throughout your book. I do not write outlines, but when I’m done with a novel, I have pages and pages of notes on the side, so I can keep track of everything that happened, along with the description of characters and places.

* Delete any sentences you spoke in another language and re-write in English. We are all impressed that you know German, but the reader will be irritated.

* Read your manuscript aloud. If you stutter in a place, so will the reader.

* Go over your manuscript and look for “repeats.” There are three forms of repeats: Words, ideas, and phrases.

Words: Get out your thesaurus and change things up. For example, there are eleven different meanings behind the word, “pull.” You could be saying things like, “Tom pulled a muscle,” and “Jane pulled apart the table,” and “Eddy pulled in a deep breath,” and “Joe pulled the bank job,” and “The truck was pulling the trailer,” and “He pulled a gun out.” Take the time to mix in different words.

Character names, along with he/she are repeated throughout your book. This can be limited by focusing on description as much as possible.

Ideas: This can also be called, “plot ideas.” Usually when the author is trying to set up a great finish or a big twist in the story, an idea is repeated to make sure the reader understands the great finish or big twist. If your descriptions are accurate, then do not worry about shoving the same idea at the reader and reminding them repeatedly what is happening.

Phrases: Telling the reader fifty times how upsetting the breakup between Jane and Tom was can be annoying. Another common mistake is when the author reminds the reader that the character is shocked and confused.

Just remember that repeats happen when the author feels deep in their heart that the reader will not understand what is going on. Repeats also happen to the lazy author who will not take the time to change a sentence or word. If you are aware of this, then it should not happen.

Wait, I got one more!!! (Sorry, take away two of those exclamation marks. In fact, take all three away, it wasn’t necessary.)

When someone reads your book, they should not be able to tell what is fiction and what is real. Yes, that includes vampires, space ships, serial killers, and yellow dragons. If the author writes a great fiction novel, the reader will actually start to believe in the story. Everything you wrote will seem possible that it could happen to anyone.

Please do not say, “That’s what an editor is for. To fix these mistakes.” It’s not the editor’s job to make you a better author.

Take the time to learn how to write at great story…and improve a great story.

Ron Knight is the author of thirteen suspense/thriller novels, Untraditional Publishing, 100 Questions Every Author Should Ask, Character Names for Authors, AC Heroes, Middle Room. He is co-Founder of the UP Authors Program, a weekly blog that assists authors with all aspects of writing, marketing, and publishing. See more of Ron Knight at


  1. Great post, Ron. I’m guilty of all of the above, then took time to fix the mistakes. And your point about the editor is right on. In fact, a writer won’t make it past the slush pile if an editor sees there is too much work to be done. She’ll skip over your ms and look for one that’s well written.

    BTW, are you in Tampa? DOG ISLAND has several Tampa scenes, and of course am very familiar.

    Comment by G Thomas Gill — March 15, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

  2. All good advice, but for me the one that hit the bullseye was “When someone reads your book, they should not be able to tell what is fiction and what is real.” This is a much (!!!) better way ;) of saying what I often say, which is that “anything can happen in fiction if it’s written well.” The problem is that most folks (me often included) don’t know what written well even means. You said it in such a way that it’s totally understandable and relatable.

    Comment by Savvy — March 15, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

  3. Great post, especially the part about repetition. As a freelance editor, I find that a lot of novelists don’t realize how often they’re repeating themselves (and I do it myself in my own early drafts!). (Oh, look. An unnecessary exclamation point.) :-) But training ourselves to notice these things can only strengthen our work.

    Comment by Lauren S — March 16, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

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