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.

1 comment:

  1. We greatly encourage this technique at the writing center where I work. Students are amazed at what their writing "sounds" like when the grammar and punctuation are not right, not to mention when the content does not say what they really wanted to say. I totally agree with you, this really works!!