How to Polish Your WIP Before Sending

Photo credit: LucasTheExperience on Flickr
So you’ve traded with CPs and betas several times, completed more rounds of revision and drafts than you care to think about, and now it’s nearly time to send your MS out. Whether “out” to you means querying, submissions, or to your agent or editor, this can frequently be a nerve-wracking experience.

The final step, however, before hitting “send” on those e-mails is to do one last polish to fix minor issues that can sometimes pull readers out of the narrative or bring attention to the writing. These are some things I try to look for when I do a final polish:

  • Overuse of adverbs. While I’m not a writer who believes that all adverbs are evil and need to be annihilated, too many adverbs are frequently a sign of not-as-strong-as-could-be writing. Luckily, this is a relatively easy (if not time-consuming) fix. I generally do a quick “ly” search and eliminate the unnecessary ones, adjust phrases and words to make them stronger and make sure I don’t have too many on a single page. 

  • Repeated words/phrases/writer ticks. Arched eyebrows, smirking, lip-biting, runnings hands through hair and sighing are actions that my characters tend to repeat a lot. I’m not sure exactly why they’re such crutch phrases when I’m drafting (possibly because I do these things a lot myself?), but invariably my CPs find at least one of these way, way overused in my drafts—and so I do a quick search and destroy to weed some out.

  • Unnecessary dialogue tags. This is a very common and easy mistake—and one I still catch myself doing frequently. If you have an action tag with dialogue, then you don’t also need a dialogue tag. For example:

    Meh: “What is it?” he asked, tucking her hair behind her ear.

    Better: “What is it?” He tucked her hair behind her ear.

    It’s redundant and pretty easy to spot.

  • Similar character/place names. In early drafts of Red I had SO many S names. S character names, S place names, I just really liked S okay? But unfortunately it gets confusing when you have too many character or place names that sound similar or all start with the same letter, so this is something to keep an eye out for. If you’re not sure, it can sometimes help to write out all the character and place names alphabetically—it’ll become obvious very quickly if you have too many that all start with the same letter or sound similar.

  • Continuity errors. This frequently happens when you revise in stages like I do. Sometimes, when you change something major (or even not major, but something that affects other things) you miss little continuity issues. Or you’re like me and forget that you killed off a character in this latest revision round, so that character is magically accidentally resurrected in the final chapter—oops. This can be a little trickier to spot on your own, especially if you’ve looked at your MS so many times, but CPs and betas are quite excellent at honing in on them. 

  • Told emotions. I’ve already written a post on how to show emotion effectively, so I won’t get into the details again, but this is another very easy to catch fix. When I’m searching for told emotions, I like to do a quick search in my WIP for emotion tags: sad, scared, happy, excited, nervous, etc. Like most search and destroy methods, you don’t need to get rid of every example of told emotion, but many times there are ways to show emotion much more effectively than just naming the emotion, and that’s what you’re looking for here—opportunities to make the sentence stronger. 

  • Paragraph/sentence length variety. This one can be checked with a quick visual scroll through. Pay attention to the shapes of your paragraphs and where your periods end. Try to avoid giant bricks of text and if you know you tend to overuse a particular sentence/paragraph style (i.e.: short or overly long sentences) keep an eye out to make sure you haven’t overdone it. 

So those are my go-to polishing checks—now I want to hear from you. What checks do you do when polishing your WIP?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Think you're ready to send your MS off? @Ava_Jae shares some quick checks to look for with your final polish. (Click to tweet)


Briana Morgan said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH! This post is incredibly helpful. Most of the issues I see in my work have to do with paragraph and sentence length variety, unnecessary dialogue tags, and writer ticks - the last one being the most difficult to edit out.

MK said...

Some of these I catch earlier than the final polish, but on my checklist are:

Filter phrases! You have a really good article on that in your archives somewhere. Before reading it I had never realized how much I used "She saw" "She felt" etc...

I also do a final check for "filler scenes". By this I mean scenes to get my characters from point A to point B. My characters need to get to school, so I have a scene of them driving there. Another character needs to get to work, so I have a scene of her driving there. I don't know why when I'm drafting I feel the need to show people getting themselves around, but these scenes are almost always unnecessary. Cutting them helps me get my word count down, always a struggle for me.

Also just general repetitiveness--someone pointed out to me that a homeless man in my story was always putting his hands in his "tattered" pockets. Didn't need to use the word tattered so many times, haha.

But all in all I think you've caught mostly everything--so helpful!

Ava Jae said...

You're so welcome! :) I find that the paragraph/sentence length bit tends to be the hardest for me to edit out because my brain still doesn't really notice them (unless I'm specifically looking for it). Writer ticks can also be tricky, but my CPs and agent are very good at pointing them out to me, so that makes it easier. lol

Ava Jae said...

Filter phrases! Duh! I'm surprised I forgot that one lol. EXCELLENT ADDITION.

That's a great point about filler scenes, too. I also have a tendency of wanting to show everything, though I've been more conscious about it in recent years and remind myself while writing that I'm totally allowed to skip to when the character arrives somewhere without showing the boring stuff. (Still! Something to look out for, I think. I'll keep that in mind.)

And yes, I think general repetitiveness is another great one to look out for. A little harder to catch on your own sometimes, but I invariably repeat something in every WIP. Usually many somethings.

Alana (Siegel) Mag said...

Control Find and Replace is my favorite tool. It saves so much time when you are putting the final touches on your WIP. You have to be careful though, I once named a town Bodie (like the California ghost town), and when I did Control Find and Replace to change the name to Canomo and reread, I found a lot of strange entries. Of course, it was bound to be worse in a thriller book with tons of dead *bodies.*

VictoriaGrace Howell said...

These are a bunch of things I'm checking in my manuscript right now! lol Especially continuity. XD I have to go back and fix an error I found in that actually. Another thing I like to fix is to make sure my paragraphs start and end differently. You don't want a bunch of paragraphs all starting with the name of the character or all with "the" or "a" so I make sure to vary them.

Aimee Hyndman said...

Just finished polishing up my MS today to send to my agent. This was a nice check list to make sure I'd covered all my bases! There really are so many little details to consider. I'm a big fan/ enemy of the 'repeated words and phrases edit'. My characters always smirk too much.
Great post!

Kim Chance said...

This is excellent!!!

Ava Jae said...

Yes! I use Find and Replace often, but I've also learned to put spaces after words in a search because otherwise does replace even when it's part of a word. But if you were to search "Bodie " it would skip "bodies" (though then it also will skip "Bodie?/Bodie./Bodie," so you have to be careful.)

But otherwise, yes, major time saver.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Aimee! That's so exciting about finishing your MS to send to your agent—congrats! And I'm glad you found this post helpful for a final polish—I'll probably be referencing it myself soon when I get to the polish stage. Heh.

And yes...the repeated words/phrases can be pretty tough to pull out on your own. And I find I almost always pick up a new one every time I've gotten rid of a habitual one. Writer quirks! lol

Ava Jae said...

Thank you!! :)

Ava Jae said...

Interesting point about paragraph beginnings! I often check sentence beginnings if I begin to notice a pattern, but I can't say I've looked to hard at paragraph openings...hmmm...

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