Writing Tips

General Writing Tips

  • Your manuscript needs a header on each page. It should include the title, the author’s name and the page number. (Note: If you wish, the page number can be inserted at the bottom of the page.)

  • Make sure your entire book flows smoothly. Avoid overuse of flashbacks.

  • A slow-moving beginning turns off agents and editors. Write a beginning hook to suck in the reader. Use action rather than narrative.

  • Make sure the climax isn’t resolved too easily. Be certain to tie up all loose ends that may have drifted throughout your story.

  • Double-check for grammatical errors, such as misspelled or repeated words and sentence structure.

  • Do not use unusual words more than once in your entire manuscript. A reader will remember them and be pulled out of the story if you repeat them.

Common Manuscript Errors

Is it compliment or complement? (Is it “i” or “e?”)

A compliment must be spoken by a human voice. Someone or something (a company, for example) can give you a gift as compliments from them.

  • A dog cannot give a compliment to anyone because it cannot talk.

  • A dress can complement shoes.


Is it use or used?

We are speaking “past tense” here. Here’s a clever tip to help you remember which form to use: If it’s past tense, use “used.”


Correct: We used to dine at that restaurant, but we don’t anymore.

Incorrect: We use to dine at that restaurant, but we don’t anymore.


Improper use of the word "its"

It’s is NOT possessive. It’s means: It is. (A contraction) Never, never is an apostrophe used in its to show possession.


Correct: Its paw. Its nose. Its leg. Its house.

Incorrect: It’s paw. It’s nose. It’s leg. It’s house. You are saying: It is paw. It is nose. It is leg. It is house.



  • A compound sentence is made up of two independent sentences which can stand alone. Each contains a subject (noun or pronoun) and a predicate (verb). Use a comma when they are joined by and, but, or, or nor.


Correct: We (subject) went (predicate) to the store, and we (subject) bought (predicate) a loaf of bread.

Exception: You do not need a comma if the sentence is short.


  • A simple sentence is made up of an independent clause and a dependent clause. A dependent clause contains only a verb (no subject) and is dependent on the independent clause (see above) in the sentence for the subject. The independent clause stands alone. (It would make a separate sentence if used by itself.)


Correct: We (subject) went (predicate) to the store and bought (predicate) a loaf of bread. (Notice how the dependent clause depends on the independent clause for the subject of the sentence.)

Exception: If the author wishes to separate or accentuate the dependent clause, it is perfectly fine to add a comma. Also, if you is understood in what looks like a dependent clause, a comma is needed.


  • Punctuating the word ” too” at the end of a sentence:


Correct: We went to the circus too.

Incorrect: We went to the circus, too.


  • Sentences beginning with if, when, although, before, after, where, etc., must have a comma at the end of the clause.


Correct: When we go to Florida, we will go swimming.

Correct: Before we go to the movie, we’ll have dinner somewhere nice.

Correct: If he goes, I’m staying home.

Incorrect: When the time comes I’ll probably change my mind.


Overuse of the word "that"

Read, and then read again, all sentences which contain the word “that.” Many, many times “that” can be omitted, or the word “which” can be substituted. Sometimes, however, “that” is necessary and must remain in the sentence.

That not needed: I’m certain that you understand everything I’m trying to say.
Better way: I’m certain you understand everything I’m trying to say.
NOTE: Only by reading the sentence out loud and concentrating on it, will you be able to delete all unnecessary usage of the word that.
HINT: Use the “find” for locating all of the times you used “that” in your manuscript.



Sprinkle contractions throughout your manuscript in dialogue, inner monologue and narrative. You will notice how the words flow better immediately. NOTE: We talk using contractions, therefore, your characters should too.

Too stiff: “I am going to leave now,” she said. “And when I come back, you had better have all your work finished. If you do not, then we will not go to the movie.”
Better way: “I’m going to leave now,” she said. “And when I come back, you’d better have all your work finished. If you don’t, we won’t go to the movie.” (Sounds natural.)


Name Dropping

Be sure not to keep repeating a character’s name over and over in a paragraph or even on a page. When more than one character appears in a scene, it’s sometimes necessary to repeat names.


Bad: Susan jumped off the sofa and lunged for the phone. Susan caught it on the second ring. It had to be Harry calling. Susan couldn’t wait to tell him her exciting news.

Better: Susan jumped off the sofa and lunged for the phone. She caught it on the second ring. It had to be Harry calling. She couldn’t wait to tell him her exciting news.

NOTE: The above examples are very basic. Read different pages of your manuscript and see how many times you use the character’s name. Then substitute she/he in place of the proper name. You’ll be amazed at how much better it flows.


Dialogue is NOT Conversation

There is no room for bad dialogue in a good manuscript. Dialogue’s only purpose is to move the story along. If it doesn’t, and it sounds like conversation, DELETE IT. Try not to have a character answer a question directly. It’s better to answer a question with a question or to refer to something else.


“Hi, how are you today?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“Better today. I was sick yesterday.”
“That’s too bad. I’m glad you’re better.
“I’ve gotta go now. Bye.”
NOTE: The above is conversation, not dialogue.


Purple Prose. Being redundant. Incorrect sentence structure.


Using too many adjectives and adverbs.

  • Strong writing demands strong nouns and verbs. A verb can be either active or passive. Always choose “active” voice whenever possible.

  • A noun is put to best use when it paints a definite picture of what you’re trying to say.

Example: The black and white spotted (all adjectives) dog jumped to his seat on the big, red, noisy (all adjectives) truck.

Better: The Dalmatian jumped to his seat on the fire truck.

Note how the use of the word, “Dalmatian,” paints a vivid picture in your mind. You know instantly what the writer is trying to show you


Toward is preferred over towards.

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