Wednesday, November 18, 2015

T is for Tweaking

Paula is currently ‘tweaking’ her draft of Irish Secrets.

'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’m currently looking for in my WIP.

1. Try to spot clichés and change them – unless, of course, you have an annoying character who has a habit of using clichés! This can also include overused idioms e.g. pale as a ghost/as death/ as alabaster, etc. Think of something that sounds different, but without sounding too contrived.

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’ would be 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. Here’s one example I’ve read recently (and hopefully I’ve now learnt to avoid this error in my writing!): ‘He went into the house and didn’t see the door of the house down the street open fractionally and then close again.” It sounds obvious but, if he didn’t see it, you can’t include it if you’re writing in his POV.

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 education, I have make a conscious effort to avoid using ‘that’ – ‘He thought that she was beautiful’ can, in today’s more informal usage, lose the word ‘that’. 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). Having said that, as fast as I manage to train myself out of using some words, other pop up to take their place!

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.

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 the name you gave a restaurant 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’, reign instead of ‘rein’ and other such homonyms.

Tweaking means going through your work with a fine tooth-comb, and I’m sure you can add more to this list. What kind of ‘tweaks’ do you have to do?


  1. This is a great list, Paula!
    Lately, I have had to correct auto-corrections.

    1. Thanks - and LOL @ correcting auto-correct! I turned auto-correct off on mine because I found it was trying to correct some weird things! Rather like auto-correct on phones.

  2. Lots of good information here, Paula. Thanks for reminding us of what we should be doing!

    1. It's one reason why I rely on Autocrit Wizard for highlighting my overused words and phrases, dialogue tags etc because however much I try, I still end up with lots to correct and 'tweak'! .

  3. What a great checklist, Paula. I have an author handbook from TWRP that I use as my 'bible' when I tweak, and I'm going to print out this post and add it to my binder. Thanks!