Tweak, according to the dictionary, can mean to adjust or fine-tune. It’s part of the editing process, but relates more to the small improvements you can make rather than to the overall plot and characterisation editing. Most of these are things I have to look out for in my own writing.
2. Check your speech tags Are they all necessary? Sometimes they are, when you need to make it clear who’s speaking, but often you can replace the tag with an action: “I’m not sure how to say this,” he said uncomfortably can be replaced with He shifted in his chair and hesitated. “I’m not sure how to say this.”
3. Following on from this: don’t use lots of different synonyms for ‘said.’ Evidently, a reader can ignore ‘he said’ or ‘she said’, but the use of other words – mumbled, growled, stuttered, begged, shouted, sobbed etc etc can distract the reader from what’s actually being said. As above, use actions or body language instead of the synonyms. Oh, and avoid using adverbs following ‘said’ too!
4. Look for small slips in POV. Her beautiful eyes flashed dangerously is fine if you’re in the hero’s POV, since he can see this happening. However, if you’re in the heroine’s POV, would she refer to her own eyes as beautiful, would she know they flashed, let alone that it was a dangerous flash? Think about what YOU can feel your eyes doing – you know when your eyes widen or narrow, you also know whether you’re looking at someone lovingly, accusingly, doubtfully, or with hostility. So, in this case, show the heroine’s feelings, and not what someone else can see in her eyes.
5. This leads on to: beware of inserting something a character doesn’t know or see. I’ve seen so many examples of this in my recent reading (and hopefully I’ve now learnt to avoid it in my writing!) e.g. She turned to the door and didn’t see the look of fury on his face. It sounds obvious but, if she didn’t see it, you can’t include it if you’re writing in her POV. She doesn’t have eyes in the back of her head.
6. Look at the beginnings of your sentences. Do you have a page or a paragraph where every sentence starts with ‘He’ or with ‘She’? It’s so easily done, especially when we’re showing what someone is doing, thinking or feeling. Try to change the beginnings of your sentences to avoid this.
7. Over-used words? ‘That’ is the bane of my life! Having had a classical and grammar-orientated education, I have make a conscious effort to avoid using ‘that’ – He thought that she was beautiful is grammatically correct but can, in today’s more informal usage, lose the word ‘that’. One good tip I read was to use the editing tool Find to highlight words you know you overuse, and if your chapter lights up like a Christmas tree, start deleting or changing the word(s). If you don’t know the words you over-use, there are several websites where you can paste a chapter of your work and find out. Click over to our Helpful Writing Hints page to find one of these websites!
8. Break up long sentences which have coordinate or subordinate clauses. Having returned home at midnight, she sat staring at the fire, which had long since gone out, and wished she could go back to the start of the evening to avoid making the mistakes which had annoyed Sam who had then left with Melanie even though she knew he couldn’t stand the giggling blonde who fawned over him like a teenager over a rock star.
Okay, I know that’s an extreme example, and I’m sure you can see the ways to break it up into at least two, if not more, sentences. However, it’s worth checking your own sentence length and seeing if you can break them up too. Thirty words is probably the ideal ‘maximum’ length to aim for (although, of course, there are always exceptions to that!)
9. Double-check your names and ages – and other facts. Hopefully you’ll not change your hero’s or heroine’s names part way through the story, but what about other things? I’ve heard of examples where the hero’s blue eyes have changed to brown half-way through a story, and where the heroine’s hair has changed from auburn to blonde. Check back to the name you gave a restaurant/pub in Chapter 1 if you want to use it again; don’t say the nearest town is ten miles away, and then have your heroine driving to it in five minutes (or five hours!); double-check the names, appearances and ages of your minor characters.
10. Last but not least, check your spelling! Word-processing programmes will not highlight words which are spelled correctly despite being in the wrong context. Common examples are ‘there’ and ‘their’, ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ – but other things I’ve seen wrongly spelled are ‘heal’ instead of ‘heel’, ‘sight’ instead of ‘site’ and other such homonyms.
Tweaking means going through your work with a fine tooth-comb, looking for the small errors rather than the overall story-arc. I’m sure you can add more to this list. What kind of ‘tweaks’ do you have to do?