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
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
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?