What are the most common bigger picture mistakes you see when going over a manuscript?
I enjoyed searching for my answer to this question, because it allowed me to return to old author correspondence, which jostled out stories that are locked back in my mind somewhere. What I noticed popping up most often was inconsistent narrative distance and point of view.
It may be tempting for the writer to share as much as possible, especially in a first draft, but telling too much, rather than just showing the essentials, can disturb the reader's sense of place. As we read, we position ourselves around the characters, in a way. We are closer to some characters' minds, and further from others. It's important to be deliberate with the point of view and narrative distance you choose, because otherwise, even if the reader doesn’t know why, he or she will feel disoriented, unsure where to land. Point of view and narrative distance can certainly change throughout a manuscript, but only if there is a reason and it benefits the story. Most often, though, I find this to be a great tool for pinpointing larger issues in the manuscript as a whole.
Revealing too much comes from a generous place in the writer. We want to inform the reader as much as possible, right? The problem is that it often makes the story drag, repeats what the character’s actions and dialog have already revealed, or simply makes it difficult for the reader to figure out what's important. One of my favorite experiences of reading is the mystery that I’m forced to sit with. Mystery is truer to the life most of us live, the life filled with questions we’ll never answer. This limits what the author can share, but it is a great tool for picking out the most essential details. Too much information often distracts the reader and rarely serves its purpose as well as we expect. It may be better to allow the action and dialog to stand on their own, because they often can.
Originally published with The Loft Literary Center.