KEEP A TIME CHART: Even if you never mention particular dates in your novels, it’s important that you know the day and date of every scene. You may ask, “Why do I need to know that if it’s not part of my novel?” I’ll tell you why.
When you’re in the thick of writing your book, it’s very easy to lose track of how much time has elapsed between events. In some of my novels, my characters have had such long, complicated days that it’s taken me chapters to describe the action. Conversely, I may skip ahead two weeks, a month, or even years. It all depends on the story.
Every time I begin a novel, I pull out a calendar, and I choose a date. Sometimes it has everything to do with the story and what time of year it is, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s still important. Let’s say your character is an unhappy wife who is keeping tabs on her husband’s whereabouts because she is convinced he’s cheating. In Chapter 7, she’s having lunch with her best friend and telling her everything that she has just found out. Can you accurately have your character tell her friend what happened five days ago, what happened three days ago, and what happened two weeks ago if you don’t have it noted? I sure can’t.
If you keep a dated time chart with a simple synopsis of what happens when, it will save you lots of headaches down the road.
KEEP IT TIGHT: Let’s stay with our story of the woman who thinks her husband is cheating on her. There’s a twist in this story. She finds out that he’s not cheating at all but wants her to think he is because he’s being blackmailed and is actually trying to protect her by letting her assume the lesser of two evils. Ah, the plot is thickening. Let’s say that in Chapter 10, the woman makes a major discovery that changes her perspective on what is going on. Before you create a brand-new character to deliver that information to her, make sure there are no existing characters that can do the job. Don’t introduce your reader to new people if they serve no real purpose and will do nothing more than clutter or dilute your prose. When you use established characters, you may just come up with even better plot twists than you imagined. You may very well need a new character, but take the time to think about it. Keep it tight.
LISTEN TO YOUR NOVEL: Most of us know that it’s very difficult to proof your own work. Your eyes tend to see what is supposed to be there, not what is there. If you have spent an hour reworking a paragraph or speech, you may have become so immersed in getting it right that when you read it back, you don’t notice that you’ve used a particular word three times in two sentences. Unless it’s intentional, it’s not good. Most computers have text-to-speech functions. To review your work, highlight the part you want to hear, place it in a new document, and highlight it again. Then, sit back and listen to your words. If there are words missing, misspelled, or repeated, you will hear them. Listening gives you a different perspective than reading.
You may wonder why I suggested putting your text into a new document. You ask, “Why can’t I just highlight it in the document I’m using?” You can, but as you know, highlighted text can disappear instantly if a wrong button is touched on your keyboard and you can’t quickly hit Control Z (PCs) or Command Z (Macs) to undo. That’s all. It’s just a safety measure to protect what you’ve written.
USE YOUR FIND COMMAND: Do you have pet words or phrases that you tend to overuse? I know that’s always a worry for me. When I’m immersed in telling a story, my brain is focused on the action and sometimes I’m merely serving as a transcriptionist for my characters. Sometimes my editor will catch these repetitions and just as often, I’ll catch them myself. If you’re able to identify words or phrases you might overuse, use the FIND command in Word (or other software). Then, change them or rewrite sentences to avoid them. Just get ’em outta there. And remember, the more unusual the word, the more obvious the repetition.
What are your favorite writing tips?