Thursday, October 02, 2008

My Novel's Journey: Third Stage Edit Brings Embarassing Results

This week, I started the third stage edits of Live and Let Fly.

Second stage is read aloud, which I'm still doing. (Reading aloud lets you hear your book: its cadence, phrase choice, joke set-up and execution. You engage a different part of your brain, and it judges your manuscript differently.) Since my kids love Vern stories, it's become our nightly routine. However, that takes awhile when going one chapter a night, so I also started the third edit, which is read it backward.

That's right, backward. Starting at the bottom of page 192 and working to the top of page 1, one sentence at a time. Some people like to read backward one word at a time, but I prefer to do it one sentence at a time, so I can check punctuation and meaning as well as phrasing.

Why read backward? When we read forward, especially when reading fiction, we tend to get caught up in the story. As a result, our minds overlook errors, fill in blanks and "forgive" clumsy phrasing in order to continue the story. When you read backward, you separate the sentence from the context, and you mind can focus on it alone. As a result, you can catch more errors, especially in grammar and word usage.

Well, I thought I'd done a pretty good job with my first edit, but when I started the third, I was mortified at the errors! Using the same word twice within a line of each other. ("...bring them in," he said. The doors opened, and they brought in..., for example.) I also found misspellings and grammar that Word didn't catch. (Never trust Word alone.) I had phrases that added nothing and some sections that didn't make full sense without a little more explanation. I found things I brought up in the end that I didn't set up earlier on. I also found (partly through read aloud, partly from thinking back) that I didn’t tie up all my loose ends in the last chapter. I had to add several pages.

Here are a couple of pages with edits. I used red for one edit and black for another. (They get mixed up in the middle, so don't ask which is which.)

In all, the manuscript was such an embarrassing mess that I wrote my critique crew and begged them not to look at it until I'd sent a better copy. It took about five days to read it backward and will take three to put in all the changes. It's worth every minute.

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