Friday, July 19, 2013

Been Writing a While? Keep the Details Fresh

Last year, I noticed a wart on my latest work-in-progress. The scene seemed fine, but something was off. I stepped away. Analyzed. And it hit me. I'd written a similar situation in one of my previous books.

Oh no! I'm not only repeating words and phrases--I'm repeating actual plots too? Get the smelling salts!!

Once I recognized the issue, it didn't take much to fix it. A few hours of brainstorming led me to a different plot twist, one I hadn't used before.

Apparently repetition comes in many forms.

Recently I shared my latest book with a critique partner. She pointed out a repeat technique that I'd been relying on and, unfortunately, unaware of. Thank goodness for extra eyes! It forced me to find better, more creative ways to deepen the point of view.

Another trap I fall into time and again is using the same old action beats. It's not easy (for me!) to come up with fresh "movement" with dialogue. Sometimes my brain skips these tired phrases when I'm revising, so I've had to add another layer to my revising process--printing the book out single-spaced in a different font. Not much gets by me with that method!

As my writing develops, I find I have to be diligent about coming up with new plot twists, better descriptions, deeper character development, and unique characters. Anyone who has been writing a while strives to keep the details fresh.


Ways to Keep the Details Fresh in Your Manuscript

1. Ask yourself if the plot feels familiar? Why? Why not?

2. Work hard to avoid needless word repetitions. Find/Replace is your friend. Use it.

3. Challenge yourself to introduce new-to-you situations in your work-in-progress.

Chances are, these new situations will create problems for your characters too. For instance, I write contemporary romance. The external conflicts are usually related to the characters' jobs or personal lives. One way to "spice" it up, is to stay on top of current events and add a subplot based on one.

Think about it. Natural disasters continue to increase in frequency. Droughts or heavy rains devastate areas. Recessions dampen dreams throughout the country. Foreign adoption rules change all the time. Some countries are dangerous for missionaries or even travelers. Any of these could trigger a problem and subplot for the characters.

4. Picture the scene in your head to come up with better action beats.

This is a weak area of mine. I have to work hard when it comes to movement within a scene.

5. Keep a mental (or written) log of the sensory details you typically share. Are your scents, tastes, and descriptions tired, overdone? Come up with new ones!

The longer I write, the more I realize writing isn't something to conquer. I will never say: I made it! My first draft is a masterpiece! My manuscripts will always need multiple revisions. It's my process. It's how I take my draft from "cute idea" to solid book.

Writing is something we can always improve. Each new book provides another opportunity to pay careful attention to our craft.

How do you keep the details fresh?

Have a fabulous weekend!


  1. Great ideas! I'm loving my little search/replace at the moment. I think I used the word "so" so many times. ;)

    Have a great weekened!

  2. Jill, I found myself nodding at all your points! The action beats thing. Yep. I have to consciously work on that one, too. When I look at some of my earlier work, I cringe. But when we can do that--be subjective somewhat--about our own words, then we know we are growing in our craft.

    Many, many years ago... I had a critique partner who didn't want me to mark on her hard copy. Like, AT ALL. She was just so sure that it was sublime as it was. Of course, mine was always returned needing a tourniquet. But...I'm glad. Made me a better writer. (And it gave me the courage to re-evaluate our partnership.)

    Something I like to use a lot--notecards. Colored ones work well. You can color-code things like geopgraphic details, character points, etc. They help me to locate things quickly. Oh--and you can even hole punch them and put a ring through them for convenience and ease of flipping!

    1. I love the idea of notecards to keep track of all those details, Cynthia! I'll have to try it! Thanks!

  3. These are great ideas, Jill! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great points, Jill! Those dang action beats are the hardest for me!

    1. Ugh. I feel like I'm writing a Dick and Jane book sometimes. "Jane smiled. Dick shrugged." Ha!

  5. What a great post! I love your tips, and humor!

  6. Great points, Jill! I struggle with beats too--always using the same ones. I let myself use them in the rough draft so I won't stop the flow...then I go back and try to change them. My first drafts are pretty ugly:)

    1. Same here!! But I have to fight fatigue and laziness in the later drafts to come up with better phrasing. It's tough!


I love to hear from you!