I know many of you have a long weekend coming up, and many will be using the extra time to dive head-first into that work-in-progress. If you’re up to editing, and polishing (or even if you just want some tips to keep in mind while writing), here are seven easy tips to immediately improve your manuscript:
- Eliminate hyperbole
Even if your hero has the ‘cutest butt ever’, or your heroine is the ‘sexiest woman he’d ever seen’, this kind of construction is actually meaningless.
- First, it’s very subjective: what is sexy and cute (or beautiful, smart, sweet, or any other adjective you care to use) means different things to different people.
- Second, it’s useless as a descriptor – sexy isn’t a helpful word. Sexiest is even less so. What is sexy? Is it the curve of her hip? The line of the muscle that joins his neck to his shoulder? Making it personal to your manuscript and your characters will make your manuscript pop. Finally, in a genre where every character is sexy or beautiful, making your character the sexiest feels inauthentic – and cliched.
- Cut out all ‘she felt’, ‘it felt like’, and ‘it seemed like’ constructions
These are instant indicators of telling, not showing. Most manuscripts are written in close third – that is, third person, but from one point-of-view. In this case, the reader is in the head of that character, so everything that he or she feels should be in character and POV. For constructions like ‘it seemed like’ – this is just wishy-washy writing. ‘Seemed like’ is like hedging your bet – a thing is or it isn’t! Write boldly!
- Discard elegant variation
There are only so many ways of calling a spade a spade, and there’s no benefit whatsoever in referring to someone’s eyes as ‘orbs’. Stick to what a thing is, and look at the structure, rather than the vocabulary, if you’re finding yourself in a state of repetition.
- Read your dialogue out loud
There is no better way to tell if your dialogue sounds authentic than reading it out loud. If possible, get a friend to help – with two voices, you’ll not only know when it doesn’t sound real, but will also help you work out what would sound authentic in a conversation between two people.
- Don’t look over your shoulder
Start from the beginning of your manuscript and start reading. Underline any part of your manuscript that is moving forward in time. Highlight any part of your manuscript that moves (or looks) backwards – this includes any introspection or reference to things that have happened in the past. Go back through the highlighted parts – these are the parts where your momentum slows and/or stops. Reconsider them – are they really necessary? Do they serve a strong purpose? Can they be shared in a way that also keeps the action moving forward? This exercise will immediately highlight any pacing issues that are tied to back story.
- Check your tags
The great thing about the standard dialogue tag ‘she said’ is that it becomes almost invisible – the reader eye just glosses over it, reading the dialogue as if hearing it. This is true of a lot of the standards: she answered, he asked, etc. They’re virtually unnoticed by the reader. That is, unless, the reader is forced to stop and notice said dialogue tag, thus disrupting the flow of the dialogue and pushing the writing into notice above the story.
- There are two main ways to draw attention to your dialogue tags: first, by using uncommon tags, particularly in close succession: he asked, she responded, he ground out, she cried, he yelled, she huffed, he pleaded, she placated, he whispered, she replied.
- The second is by using an adverb: he asked quickly, she responded quietly, he ground out painfully, she cried delicately, he yelled loudly, she huffed suspiciously, he pleaded loudly, she placated gently, he whispered softly, she replied carelessly.
- Walk away
The absolute best thing you can do for your manuscript is take a break. Let it rest for as long as is feasible before the final edit. Going away, working on something else, thinking about something else, doing something else for awhile will let you come back to your story with fresh eyes. So maybe take this glorious long weekend and go get inspiration for the next story!