So, you’ve written those immortal words, ‘The End’. You’ve had your masterpiece (final draft, right?) read by some well-meaning friends and family who all agree that it’s brilliant. It can’t fail, they say.
Hang on though. Before you parcel up your precious manuscript and send it out for consideration, there are a few things that you should double check. And then check again.
- Don’t rely exclusively on your spellchecker; watch out for homophones – words that sound the same but are spelt differently – the software can’t read your mind. Use a dictionary.
- ‘I’ before ‘e’, except after ‘c’. Still works.
- If you’re not sure, check the spelling on tricky plurals
- Check your sentence structure – no clumsy split infinitives
- Know your nouns from your verbs
- Don’t use too many adjectives or adverbs
- Make sure your verb endings are correct – eg I speak, she speaks
- If you’re unsure about how to use punctuation (and yes, I think it’s still important) have a look at ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynn Truss. Lynn knows the value of every single apostrophe. Styles change, and what was the norm several years ago may no longer be current. But some rules never change.
- Ration your use of exclamation marks. In fact, erase them altogether; they’re the sign of an immature writer.
- Check and double check all your facts. Nothing turns the reader off more quickly than a lapse in accuracy. If you mention the Waitrose round the corner in a real place, make sure it actually exists. Readers notice everything and they will not forgive you for being lazy. Dates, places, events – somewhere, someone knows the truth. Don’t try to fool them.
- If you’re going to quote something familiar, make sure you get it right. On the television last night I heard someone say, ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the eye.’ (If you can’t see what’s wrong with this, go to the bottom of the class)
Continuity. Check for:
- Inconsistencies in the plot
- Disappearing characters
- Point of view changes. This may result in characters possessing some knowledge they shouldn’t, or couldn’t have. It will spoil the story for the reader
- Tense changes – glaringly obvious to the reader, and very annoying
- Coincidences. They don’t happen in fiction, not these days.
- Repetition. Read your work aloud – the ear picks up repetitions easier than the eye. Use a thesaurus to find alternative words or expressions.
Excellent advice. Especially since I will soon be entering a final editing phase myself.
Boring stuff, but it’s gotta be done 🙂
I saw that same TV programme about the gift horse – it irritated the hell out of me. But then I’m a stickler for accuracy, grammar, punctuation and spelling. Great article.
Hurrah! You’re in the right place – I never imagined I’d be singing the praises of dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri?) but my life is enhanced by their presence. Pedantic? Moi? 🙂
Great advice. Having just wrapped up draft 2 of one novel, I’m not at this final stage yet, but it’s also good to remember these things regularly as we’re writing.
I find as I write these articles that I’m getting more, shall we say – bolshy. I used to be quite timid when airing my views, but as many people seems to be of the same mind it’s given me more confidence in what I’m trying to say.