Last weekend, I put my writing aside and set about the dreaded task of …dun, dun, dun…Spring cleaning.
Now I realize there are some out there that relish the thought of scrubbing, polishing and organizing all of the surfaces of their homes. Those people are freaks to be commended.
I, though a highly organized writer and worker in my day job, am not a great housekeeper. There. I said it. I’m blessed to have a family who helps a lot and doesn’t really care if the dusting is put off a week. Mind you, if you come to our home, you’re not in danger of being hauled away to the decontamination ward or anything like that. We just find that there are a lot of things we’d rather be doing than spit-shining our baseboards.
Alas, every now and then we have to do just that. And as much as I dislike heavy-duty cleaning, I always feel better after it’s finished. There’s something wonderful about the smell of Pinesol; something so refreshing to survey your kingdom and not think to yourself, “Man, I hope nobody shows up to visit unannounced today.”
As I enjoyed my day of sparkling clean freshness, (because you know it’s not going to be this clean for more than a day) I started thinking about how nice it would be to feel this way about my manuscript. Don’t get me wrong, I love my manuscript. I’m proud of it. But I’m not naïve enough to think that it is perfect. I do have some pages out with agents, but that doesn’t mean I can’t go back over it again and do a little Spring cleaning on it too.
I reread my manuscript with my rubber gloves on and dust mop at the ready. I found a few things that I could tidy up to tighten my writing.
I swept out the qualifiers. Qualifiers are words that are added to modify the meaning by limiting it or enhancing it. Examples are: almost, maybe, possibly, very, often, sometimes. Those words aren’t necessarily bad or wrong, but if you’re trying to convey a strong point, using “almost” in front of it stops the action. My main character uses qualifiers because she isn’t confident in herself. She does a lot of internal thinking and guessing, so I use words like “might” and “sometimes” with her. The antagonist is decisive and sure about himself. No need for him to say, “I think he has the information and I think I can get it.” No. He doesn’t think those things, he knows them. So instead he says, “He has the information and I can get it.” It’s stronger and more in character for him.
I waxed the dialogue until it shined. My story contains a squad of six soldiers. When they’re together, dialogue can become confusing. Hopefully I have written these characters in such a way that they have distinct personalities and react in specific ways to situations. I realized that not every squad member has to comment in every scene. They can be present and not carry a large part of the conversation. Sometimes one of the squad was simply drumming his fingers on the table, a habit of his. That’s enough to make his presence known without him speechifying about what is going on in the scene.
I scrubbed the familiar go-to words. Every writer has these. When you are writing your first draft, you write what comes to mind in order to get the story onto the page. I have discovered I have a tendency for my characters to nod. I have no idea why. It just happens. Nodding is something that people do every day. It’s not odd for a character to do this. But for whatever reason, my characters seem to nod all the time. Some of those instances had to go.
My manuscript hasn’t changed all that much but it is definitely sparkly-fresh with the scent of citrus and bleach.