Monday, November 3, 2008

Why Don't You Make Sense?

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When you write a novel, make sure it makes sense, not just to you, but also the readers.

How do you do this?

Look for inconsistencies in your character’s thinking or actions. What image do you wish to project for that character? Does everything that character says or does reflect that image?

Example: A shy girl would not swear out loud or wear a bikini, unless a metamorphosis is taking place.

Make sure the timeline follows easily. Handle flashbacks with care. Don’t confuse readers by flitting back and forth in time or seasons without good reason. Also, when time periods change, give hints as to how many days or months or seasons or years have passed.

Wrong: Graduation was over, yet Larry had no clue what to do with his life.

Right: Larry couldn’t believe it was already a year since graduation. He still had no clue what to do with his life.

Make sure actions are not confusing. Explain in detail if necessary.

Example: When I went through my first edit of Two Wrongs with my editor, Libby McKinmer, another member of our group, she pointed out certain paragraphs in my fight scene on the balcony and the escalator at Marshall Field’s Department store and told me to explain them more fully because she couldn’t figure out exactly what was taking place. If my editor couldn’t understand it, for sure the readers wouldn’t.

I went back to that scene, thought it through carefully and described everything blow by blow, step by step. Where were they standing? When did they hit each other? How far did they go on the escalator? All of that was in my mind, but not on the printed page.

I’m sure there are other examples of how to make sense in a manuscript. Please comment if you think of any.

Morgan Mandel

Morgan is also at, &


  1. Excellent advice, Morgan. My editor for Owen Fiddler (Peggy Ulmann Bell) was a stickler for all the above. As authors we often THINK what we see/hear/feel is happening on the page but it simply is not there or not there in detail or clarity enough for the images to pop up in the readers' heads.

    I keep my characters consistent by keeping a character profile journal for every book. Not just physical attributes, but voice register, personality, psychological make-up, relationships, quirky attributes, everything. When a character get written up with something new about them, I skip over to the journal and add it so I don't forget and contradict myself later.

    Good post!

  2. Marvin,
    You are very organized. Something I can aspire to, but don't know if I'll ever achieve!

    Morgan Mandel

  3. I do much the same as Marvin. My notes often end up almost as long as the manuscript.

  4. Morgan,
    Great advice. Writers know what's in their heads—sometimes that doesn't end up on paper without some extra effort.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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