Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A novel approach to editing

In looking over our the current discussion about editing, copyediting and proofreading, it’s obvious one facet or the other is a problem for most of us. I’m no exception.

Vicki brings up a good point about how we cannot rely on ourselves to do an accurate job with proofreading because we know our words too well: “...you see what you think is there, what you expect to see.” Truer words were never spoken. I’m the poster child of this state of cognition.

The obvious solution, and one which all of us use, is to have someone else read our words. But I often wondered, is this the best solution? Could there be something better, something even more useful, an editorial stone left unturned, as it were?

When I do readings, I discover many useful things about my writing, mostly negative. Far too often I’ve stumbled over sentences or phrases that aren’t bad, they’re just verbally clumsy. They’re hard to spit out. When you read someone else’s work, they’re the sentences you probably needed to read a second or even third time to get their meaning. That’s not good. Before my novel is committed to ink on paper, I read them (in my head and out loud), my “editorial readers” read them, my editor read them, my publisher read them, the proofreader read them, and yet, some of those clumsy words remain. What else can be done?

Then it came to me, like a cold fist at the end of a wet kiss. My next novel is going to get an additional editing treatment: I’m going to have someone else read it aloud!

With that in mind, I had my long-suffering wife do this over the weekend with my most recent novel, A Case of You. I could only pin her down for three chapters, but boy, did I get interesting results!

What I discovered was that some sentences that were clear as daylight to me were stumbled over badly by her. It’s easy to pick up what is just careless reading and what is bad or unnecessarily complicated sentence structure that hinders understanding.

I think my small “dry run” proves that this might be a valuable editing tool. I’m sure that I can talk my wife into committing to reading an entire novel out loud. The problem will be that after fixing the troublesome passages I will have a tougher time finding a different person to commit the hours to do it all over again. I don’t think it would be good to use the same person twice.

So, should I patent this idea and hit the road, giving lectures on “the greatest editing secret the pros don’t want you to know”? Should I get on late night TV and do infomercials?

Or should I just have this idea in my back pocket, ready to go, and get on with writing my next novel?

By the way, I just noticed that this posting marks Type M’s 800th! Holy Mackinaw!!


Alan Orloff said...


I just, uh, persuaded, my wife to read my entire book aloud as I followed along, proofing the galleys. It provided a different perspective, that's for sure! (And it was definitely worth it to me, although she was hoarse for about three days after.)

Rick Blechta said...

A hoarse wife (or husband) is a benefit that I NEVER imagined!

See my idea works! I'm definitely going to hit the lecture circuit now.

Contact me for bookings. Act now, and I'll throw in -- at no extra charge -- a copy of my latest book, You, Too, Can Make Hundreds of Dollars in Book Publishing! This offer is not available in stores! Don't wait. Order today!

Ann Elle Altman said...

Someone else read your book aloud, what a novel approach. I'm going to have to recruit my husband... now where is he?


Rick Blechta said...

Seriously, it does seem to work. It won't replace all the other methods but it is a good way to fine tune your prose. Also, by simply listening, word patterns that you use too often just leap out at you. Doing an entire novel this way would be a long process, and my feeling is it would be best done at the very end, but I believe that the idea is definitely worth pursuing.

Thanks for writing in Alan and Ann!

Dana King said...

This is a great idea, assuming one can find some poor slob with the time and patience to read someone else's book aloud for them.

I used to insist someone else read my chapters in a critique group I belonged to, precisely because I already knew where the emphasis should come. I wanted to hear someone else stumble over a phrase or accentuate the wrong word, because that was how a reader was most likely to read it. I learned a lot like that, but the group wanted me to read them because they said I was a good reader and the stories sounded better when i read them.

Which was exactly why I didn't want to read them. I was a good reader because I knew what was coming. I didn't learn nearly as much from listening to myself read, and it was virtually impossible to take worthwhile notes.

Vicki Delany said...

I think it might be kinda hard to pay rapt attention to someone else reading your entire novel. I always listen to the audio verions of my books one time through, and I do find errors and difficulties. But it is read by a professional actor who can do voices and knows about adding emotion and emphasis. Almost anyone else will drone on. And on. Nevertheless, Rick, I will hire you to read my novel aloud for me.

Anonymous said...

Forget intonation, forget colloqialisms, where the heck do you get someone who is inside your head? My husband is my husband because he is the exact opposite of me, an engineer trained to make pretty TV video pictures and squash bugs and come running if the kids' get vomity. He has neither the time nor the inclination to read what I write, knows better than to "criticize" anything I do and wait for it...is ready and waiting at the door, bags packed for Hawaii when the first big advance comes in...He already has a job -- this portends doom for homesteads where there is one creative and one linear thinker.

Donis Casey said...

My beloved and erudite husband couldn't read "See Spot Run" aloud without stumbling, and I don't have any children to threaten to cut out of the will. When I listen to my books on tape, she sometimes gets the accent wrong, but otherwise is great, which is why they pay her the big bucks. I'd love to have the money to pay someone to read the MS aloud to me.

Rick Blechta said...

Where there's a will, there's a way. I have faith in you, Donis.

Donis Casey said...

Thanks, Rick. Maybe I can discover something unsavory about an acquaintance and blackmail her.