Jessica Page Morrell is a top-tier developmental editor for books and screenplays. Her articles have appeared in Writer’s Digest and The Writer magazines. She is known for explaining the hows and whys of what makes for excellent writing and for sharing very clear examples that examine the technical aspects of writing that emphases layering and subtext. Her books on writing craft are considered “a must have” for any serious writer’s toolkit.
She is sharing her handy Writing Craft Checklist with us because we all can use reminders. We advise that you make sure that your manuscripts do not have any of the following issues prior to submitting them to agents and acquisition editors. If you are too close to a work to evaluate it, you may want to consider having an objective and unbiased manuscript overview to catch these issues.
Editors and agents are word people, most were English majors in college and have a great love and respect for the written word. They will notice your level of craft within the first sentences, so your efforts must be polished, vivid and exceptional.
Jessica Page Morrell’s Handy Writing Craft Reminders Checklist
- Your manuscript lives or dies on your opening sentences and each word must be perfect, precise, and weighted with meaning.
- Editors notice and are turned off by passive voice and wimpy verbs.
- Editors notice when the viewpoint jumps or shifts within a scene.
- Editors notice too much telling (reporting or summary) and not enough showing in all types of writing including essays and memoir.
- Editors notice when emotions are announced instead of dramatized.
- Editors notice frequent use of names in dialogue. Generally, leave out names.
- An editor notices sloppy punctuation such as the excess use of exclamation points, quote marks around inner thoughts, improper use of semicolons and ellipsis.
- Editors notice protagonists who are not proactive, heroic in some way, and bigger than life.
- Editors notice characters with a limited emotional range and expression.
- Editors notice large and small inaccuracies and inconsistencies—when the character has blue eyes on page 23 and green eyes on page 57; when a character drives an old, beat-up, pick-up truck that is inexplicably equipped with airbags; when an animal, plant, or species of any sort is misnamed or shows up in the wrong region of the country.
- Editors notice when technical details don’t ring true—such as in a mystery when police don’t follow standard arrest procedure; when a yacht sinks from a single bullet hole; or explosive materials are used haphazardly.
- Editors notice vague descriptions (plant instead of ivy, tree instead of oak) and generalities instead of details that bring the reader into a specific time and place.
- Editors notice when writers don’t write for all the senses, especially leaving out smells.
- Editors notice small confusions such as misusing it’s and its, that and which, affect and effect, compliment and complement, lay and lie.
- Editors notice overly long paragraphs and a general lack of white space. Generally, paragraphs are five or six sentences long and as taught in grade school introduce a topic, develop a topic, then conclude or lead on to the next paragraph.
- Editors notice a lack of transitions—the words and phrases that announce a change in mood or emotion, time, and place so the reader can easily follow. They also know excess transitions as when you follow your characters across every room and along every sidewalk.
- Editors notice excess modifiers, purple prose, and too much description. The best writing is lean and economical and every word in every sentence has a job to do.
- Editors notice a voice that is flat, inappropriate, or boring. Voice, whether it is the writer’s voice in an essay or the viewpoint character or narrator in fiction, must breathe life into the piece and hint at the person behind the words.
CAC18 Writing Craft Sessions and Workshops presented by Jessica Page Morrell to take your writing craft to the next level. #SeriousAuthors
Click here to read more in-depth descriptions of the sessions.
- Learning from the Greats – Sunday Master Morning Writing Craft Class – Intermediate to Advanced Levels
- The Anchor Scenes of Fiction – Sunday Afternoon Master Writing Class – Fiction, Film
- How High Concept Really Works – Regular Session – Friday Regular Session – Fiction, Film
- Subtext: The Quiet River Beneath the Story – 1.5 hours Regular Session on Saturday – Writing Craft
- KaffeeKlatch Session – What’s in a Title? – Book Promotion Tools & Tips