Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bonus lesson: Read Your Novel Aloud

This entry comes with a big tip of the cap to Harlan Coben, who posted on Twitter recently that he reads his manuscript aloud as the final step before submission to the publishing house.

Here's a hint: It works. No, make that "it works great!"

I did this on the fourth read through my novel. What an eye-opener. I think writers get so locked in on small sections of their manuscripts while doing a normal edit that they forget to look at the entire picture. It's that "can't see the forest for the trees" problem. Reading the novel aloud corrects that. Give yourself an entire day's work time to do it, if you have written a novel of any size. Here's what I found once I read aloud:

The pacing wasn't right. I took too long in cutting to the chase (no pun intended). I had some great chapters that exposed my character's voice, and some backstory, that didn't need to be there. There was some good writing. I will admit that. It just didn't belong in the storytelling. So I cut it and condensed the information in small form elsewhere.

There were sentences and phrases that were extraneous. They were left on the cutting room floor.

There still was a typo or two I had missed. I know a publishing house will provide an overall edit and a line-by-line edit behind me, but the copy editor in me wants to get it right the first time.

There was a mistake in sequence. That is changed. (Robert Crais says he had one of his characters meeting another main character for the first time TWICE in his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series. That can happen when you have written as many novels in a series as Crais has.)

There were reactions by characters that didn't fit into the whole scheme well. I am finishing this blog entry and correcting one of those areas. My main character should be ready to charge through a wall because of information he just learned, but I have him reacting more to another bit of action. That's just plain wrong.

Reading aloud ended with me cutting my novel by nearly 5,000 words. That's right, 5,000 words.

WHAT I AM READING NOW: Rereading "Beyond Fear," a nonfiction work I first read probably 17 years ago. It's the account of the first crossing of New Guinea from north to south without the use of motorized craft. It is a marvelous story. Next up: "The Gone Girl," which is likely the favorite to win the Edgar this year.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Lesson Eight: Revise, revise, revise

I have again been less than prompt in blogging for the very reason I am writing this entry. (Well, there is that two-other-jobs thing.) I am involved in the third revision of my novel. Each revision has discovered flaws that earlier had been acceptable work.

Of course, as a copy editor I see the value in revising copy. It makes the content stronger. Most of the work I do involves the nip-and-tuck of extraneous sections. I allow violations of the "show, don't tell" mandate for authors. I don't amp up my main character's emotions in the right places. I don't make him keep to a straight path when he encounters certain situations. I tighten up the conflict between MC and chief protagonist.

Snip, snip, all gone. Spackle and sand, and scenes are suddenly stronger.

The key element in all this is the opening chapter. Almost every agent wants to see at least the first chapter of your novel. That makes sense because a reader standing in an airport bookstore will make the decision to purchase or not based on the blurb on the back of the book and a reading of the first few paragraphs. Hence, that first part is LIFE OR DEATH material. I am content with what I have now, but will an agent share my enthusiasm? Ay, there's the rub. My view doesn't matter. An agent's does, as will an editor's, as will the readers' decision while they stand in that airport bookstore.

I have no qualms about my characters, conflict, pace and plotting. Setting is another matter, but I touched on that in my last blog post. There is compelling material, but all that good copy means nothing if that opening doesn't grab EVERYONE involved in determining success in a literary venture.

So, I revise, which is what I am going to do right now. Nip and tuck. Snip, snip, Spackle and sand.