There’s a certain joy in editing a manuscript – at least when the editing is going well. An editing method that I’ve grown fond of involves reading the draft four times and in four different ways.
The first involves the good old fashioned critical eye, a pen, numerous cups of tea or coffee and a comfortable chair. Silent reading of the manuscript is tantamount to applying coarse sandpaper to a roughly carved piece of wood. It identifies the most glaring mistakes, be they bad phrasing or plot holes a mile or more wide. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with creative forms of dialogue attribution. The most straightforward attribution is, of course, he said/she said/it said et cetera. However dialogue can resonate just as assertively in conjunction with an action. For example:
(a) “I’ve been waiting over an hour!” she said. “Where were you?”
(b) She traced her finger around the rim of her glass and pouted. “I’ve been waiting over an hour! Where were you?”
Certainly there’s a higher word count in the second attribution, but a fuller illustration of the action is delivered.
The second edit reading occurs in front of the computer with paper manuscript to hand complete with red ink and numerous notes and scribbles. Since I write all my drafts on a computer, I take this opportunity to compare sections of the printed and soft-copy manuscript and implement changes and cuts on a page by page basis. During that process, I’ll sometimes read parts of the revised document aloud and usually to my cats. Generally, they either fall asleep or demand food. Either way, I have a captive audience!
I like to imagine this phase of the editing process in mechanical terms. Just as a mechanic will tighten bolts and belts on a car, so too a writer can tighten up the language and grammar in sentences and paragraphs as well as character motivations and pacing.
A third reading occurs when the draft is complete. It usually involves me pacing around the house, reading the story aloud and identifying lines that need re-working or that don’t sound right when enunciated aloud. I’m a big believer in writing in a manner that allows a story to be read aloud for an audience. Oral language being the most powerful form of communication, it makes sense to write in a manner emulating spoken verse in my opinion.
Doing so conjures in my mind the salons of Revolutionary France where those who could read, read pamphlets out loud to those who could not.
Alternatively, I imagine the wandering minstrel travelling from town to town, regaling his audience with rousing renditions of heroic tales. I like to imagine the excitement building in a crowd as they listen to the story-teller and seek to add that energy to the writing process. Fiction writing as a form of oratory: The seamless marriage of the printed word to the realm of theatre.
A fourth and final reading occurs when I subject a friend or family member to me reading them the story aloud. When doing so I try to keep one eye on the story, the other on the audience to try and identify what parts of the story are boring or need cutting or re-working.
After that the manuscript goes to my test readers or final proof-reading. Those readers are those whom I trust to be brutally honest with their opinions. Nobody improves without constructive criticism especially when it comes to the literary craft.