The writing process is a labour of love, but it’s labour all the same.
Once I finish a novel, however, the real work begins. Over time, I’ve developed a few tricks that help polish my manuscripts which you may find helpful.
Following is a list I created of ten things I do once I type ‘The End’.
- Eliminate/revise dialogue tags. Sometimes, it’s hard to pull an adequate dialogue tag out of the proverbial word hat. In an effort to finish a chapter or scene, I may type ‘he replied’. After going over my dialogue, I’ll often eliminate the tags entirely, or work it in differently. For example, He ruffled his fingers through his hair, curling his mouth into a frown. “I told you about that already!”.
- Reduce word repetition. We all have certain words we tend to overuse. I’ll start at the beginning of my manuscript, and with the Control F feature on MS Word, I’ll type in certain words to see how often they appear in the manuscript. Whether it’s ‘looked, wondered, felt, seemed,’ or any overused verb or adjective, I’ll change those words out to something else. It’s amazing how many different ways there are to describe beauty.
- Scan the beginning of paragraphs. I’ll ask myself, “Do I have three paragraphs in a row beginning with my character’s name?” Do several chapters begin with he, she, or some similar word simultaneously? This is something that editors notice and it can detract from my overall writing and distract a reader.
- Read dialogue aloud. This may seem obvious, but until I started doing this, I thought my dialogue sounded great. Reading it aloud makes a world of difference! You want your characters to sound natural in order to convince the reader your characters are believable. This is especially true for historical novels. Your heroine or hero, unless they’ve time traveled, will not likely be shouting slang in the sixteenth century! “Dude, your carriage is awesome!” doesn’t sound too convincing.
- Eliminate awkward sentences. We all have them hiding in our manuscripts. If there is a sentence that doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Get rid of it altogether. Try reading through the paragraph without the sentence. Maybe it needs to be written another way or chucked altogether.
- Control pesky words. Words like could, would, should, become, went and got, all slow the writing down and serve to distance the reader. A phrase like ‘She thought she could kill him’ might be better read as ‘She envisioned her hands around his neck, squeezing the life out of him’.
- Balance chapters. If Chapter Four in my manuscript is 12 pages long and Chapter Five is 3 pages long, I’ll take another look at the scenes in those chapters. Ideally, chapters should be fairly similar in length, whether they are all 4 or 5 pages or 10 or 11 pages long. If I’m dealing with a particularly long chapter, I’ll decide if it can be separated into two chapters.
- Make sure foreign words are spelled correctly. Particularly with correct pronunciation and punctuation marks. In one of my novels, French was widely featured. In the spelling and grammar window, there is a drop down menu titled ‘dictionary language’. Here I can select whichever language I’m highlighting and change the word accordingly.
- Run spell check. This is quite obvious, but I’ve made the mistake of sending a letter once without running spell check. Once was one time too many.
- What else can be added? The final thing I do, once I feel the manuscript is as good as it’s going to get, is sit back and ask myself, Is there anything else I can add?
Whether it’s another character, plot line, chapter, or even a small detail about a place, my mind wanders back over the novel I’ve just finished and it’s amazing what comes to me. One time, I added an activity to a scene so my characters enjoyed food in addition to exchanging dialogue. The details of the food enriched the scene, making it more colorful and lively, giving the characters something to do other than perch like mannequins on a park bench.
There you have it. I hope you find this list helpful. Typing ‘The End’ may not necessarily be the end of your writing process. The more effort you put into your book after it’s written, the better it’ll be.