10-Item Manuscript Checklist When You’re Under a Deadline

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

Ideally, authors would like use a comprehensive checklist to prepare their manuscripts before submitting them to an freelance editor or a publisher. But what if you’re on a fast-approaching deadline? Here are ten areas to review in each scene before letting your manuscript go.

1.  Search for awkward sentences. For example, separate into multiple sentences, rewrite passive passages, and reduce wordiness for sentences such as this one: Tom was hurt by a large, gray elephant when the bull flipped him into the air as poachers from the east stampeded the herd by driving their large, gray land rovers that had tusks tied to their hoods with rope behind the herd.

2. Take your movie camera and capture what you see and hear during the scene. Determine whether you used enough of what you captured so that the character and reader will experience the setting.

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3.  Check that your character has used, hopefully, all five senses in the scene—what he sees, tastes, touches, smells, and hears.

4. Look for that zinger that spices up your dialogue.

  • Clever remark skillfully delivered
  • Shocking or unexpected observation
  • Bold truth
  • Dry or humorous comment
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5. Re-read the opening to make sure you’ve dropped the reader into the action and grounded the reader in the scene’s mood and the who, when, and where.

6.  Review the ending to ensure you’ve left the reader anxious to know what’s going to happen next.

7.  Check paragraphs’ ending words. Have you backloaded paragraphs with a strong word that gives the gist of the paragraph instead of a vague word, such as him, it, or was?

8. Research for accuracy a place, item, job, or personality you’ve introduce into the scene.

9. Enter the scene into a program like ProWritingAid to find style, grammar, overuse, and sticky-sentence problems. 

10. Have your word processing reader read your scene to you to catch typos, errors, and weird-sounding sentences.

What’s on your quick checklist to do before you send off your manuscript? 

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/

Showing = Reader’s Experience – Part 2 – Two Gems

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Welcome again editor Vie Herlocker in her two-part series on showing versus telling. Learn more about Vie at the end of her post. Here’s Vie:

New writers often ask me what showing instead of telling means. In my search for resources to help them better understand the concept, I found two gems: 

I’ll share one feature from each book.


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Gerth uses a series of comparisons to define “showing and telling.”  I found her description to be quite helpful in dispelling the mystery of the elusive beast:

  1. Telling provides the author’s conclusions and interpretations. Showing lets readers think for themselves.
  2. Telling gives the reader a secondhand report like a newspaper account. Showing allows readers to experience through the character’s five senses. 
  3. Telling summarizes past events or gives general statements. Showing places readers in real time scenes with action, dialogue, dramatization.
  4. Telling is abstract. Showing uses concrete, specific details.
  5. Telling gives facts. Showing evokes emotions.
  6. Telling distances readers from the story events. Showing makes readers active participants.


Hardy’s chapter on identifying telling intrigued me. She presents seven tell categories and notes multiple red flag words associated with them. Her detailed examples illustrate how to move from telling to showing. I’ll share just one of Hardy’s red flag words under each category—and will include examples of my own. 

1. Motivational Tells: these tell a motivation that the reader could figure out from the action. 

  • infinitives (to + verb)

Telling: Shirl leaned over to get her cup off the counter. 

Showing: Shirl leaned over and got her cup off the counter.

2. Emotional Tells: these combine an emotion with a red flag word, like “in fear,” “in anger,” etc.

  • in
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Telling: The softball landed at Mr. Green’s feet. He shook his fist in anger at the kids next door. 

Showing: The softball landed at Mr. Green’s feet. He shook his fist at the kids next door, then pocketed the ball.

3. Mental Tells: these tell us what’s going on in the character’s mind.

  • realized

Telling: Fred turned the key in the ignition. Not even a sputter. He realized the battery was dead.

Showing: Fred turned the key in the ignition. Not even a sputter. The battery was dead.

4. Stage Direction Tells: these tells explain the action as a director or script might do and can introduce sequence errors or give information before it happens. (This category can be quite subtle, and each red flag word has specific issues.) 

  • when 
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Telling: James closed the gate when the stray dog came into the yard. 

Showing: The stray dog moseyed into the yard. James closed the gate to keep him contained. 

5. Descriptive Tells: these tell what the character sensed. (This is often called “filtering.”)

  • felt

Telling: She felt the cold wind through her thin jacket. 

Showing: The frigid wind pierced her thin jacket.

6. Passive Tells: yep, the plain old passive constructions.

  • was

Telling: The table was set by Fran. 

Showing: Fran adjusted the tablecloth, then placed the good china and the silverware on the table.

7. Adverbs and Telling: while not all adverbs are telling, they can signal possible telling passages.


My copies of these books are highlighted and filled with sticky notes. Consider adding Sandra Gerth’s and Janice Hardy’s books to your reference collection as well. Both are quick reads, budget-priced, and packed with useful information.  

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Vie Herlocker is the associate editor for Surry Living Magazine in Mt. Airy, NC. Her experience includes ten years as executive editor of Sonfire Media/Taberah Press and six years reviewing books for Blue Ink Reviews. 

Vie is a member of the Christian Editor Connection, PEN, ACFW, ACW, and WordWeavers. She received the 2017 Christian Editors Network Excellence in Editing Award for a nonfiction book.  In 2018, a book she edited won the Selah Award for YA fiction at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. 

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Vie was also the editor for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.

8 Tips in Writing Deep Point of View

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Whether you write in first, second, or third person, you can increase intimacy between reader and character by writing in deep point of view* (DPOV).

Tip 1: In DPOV, we see, smell, hear, feel, and taste only what the POV character (POVC) senses. We’re privy to only her thoughts.

Tip 2: DPOV is used in a POVC’s thoughts, not dialogue. The POVC’s actions and the way he experiences his surroundings are written with his POV involved. His actions and thoughts are linear; stimuli precede his reactions.


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Sam took great pleasure in his meal. He planted a heaping spoonful of corn on his plate after Ann passed him the creamed corn. He glanced up from shoveling in corn. Ann stared at him, smiling.

Ann passed Sam the creamed corn. He planted a heaping spoonful on his plate. What a feast. He sampled the mashed potatoes. Nothing could be creamier. He sank his teeth into a fried chicken breast, and closed his eyes. To die for. If only mom could cook like this. He glanced up from shoveling in corn. Ann stared at him, smiling.

Tip 3: DPOV isn’t a flow of internal monologue or using italicized direct thoughts.

Tip 4: You rarely say to yourself, I:

  • thought
  • felt
  • wondered
  • realized
  • decided
  • wished
  • hoped

So, DPOV doesn’t state these. POVCs merely do them.


He thought Mary was mean. He wished she’d leave town, but he realized she wouldn’t. He’d avoid the battle-ax, he decided.

Mary was mean. If only she’d leave town. No way would that happen. From now on, he’d avoid the battle-ax.

Tip 5: Don’t name a feeling. Instead, give thoughts, actions, and behaviors that accompany the feeling.


portrait-53899_1280Bob felt sad his granddaughter didn’t want to visit anymore

Bob ran his fingers over Nell’s sweet face in her school photo. Why’d she have to grow up and prefer her friends to riding the tractor with Grandpa? He pulled off his glasses and wiped away the mist that had formed on the lenses.

Tip 6: Don’t use in or with to name feelings or attitudes.


Maud spoke harshly to the child. Jack looked at Maud with disdain.

Maud spoke harshly to the child. Jack drew himself to his full height. He arched his eyebrow, curled his upper lip, and glared at Maud. Was she getting his message? His dog had more tact than the shrew.

Tip 7: Don’t state that POVCs are using their senses.


I heard the stairs creak. I turned toward the staircase.

The stairs creaked. I turned toward the staircase.

Tip 8: Avoid made, caused, and gave as a way of telling.


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image by Alexas_Fotos

I tiptoed into Carl’s empty bedroom. Suddenly his alarm clock sounded and made me jump. I thought I’d set off the security system.

I tiptoed into Carl’s empty bedroom. Brrring! Brrring! I jumped and spun in every direction. Had I set off the security system? No. Too close. I clamped my hand on Carl’s alarm clock.

For more examples of DPOV click the link.

Write in deep point of view & create intimacy between reader & character. Click to tweet.

What keeps you from writing in DPOV?

* I recommend Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Elizabeth Nelson.