Tag Archives: metaphor

Read Your Draft Out Loud

I emailed a new novel to my agent two days ago. Done! Finished. At least for now. If she deems it saleable (with this one, at times I’ve wondered), she’ll want revisions, and so will my editor. All good. It’s part of the process. But for now that baby is off my plate. In their ballpark. I’m doing the happy dance, enjoying the luxury of every long exhale. Pfew.

The last thing I did before I hit SEND was read it out loud. A whole 300+ pages worth. It took days. My mouth went dry. I thought the exercise would be fairly quick and would result in a tweak here or there. But…

Wait. That line didn’t say what I wanted it to say. Wait, the cadence stopped flowing there. Too clunky. Wait, that paragraph didn’t follow from the one before it. Wait. I just used that word, so I can’t repeat it. Wait. If I were browsing books at my local indie, I wouldn’t keep turning these pages. Ahhhhh!

Reading the manuscript out loud was exactly what the draft needed. I ended up restructuring the whole novel. I now have a different opening scene (easy to do in Scrivener, just saying), but the new opener caused other chapters to fall away. It also meant my ending needed work because the new opener set up the protagonist’s conflict with his dad in a way that the previous one hadn’t. What began as a quick read-through of a manuscript I’d thought was finished turned into three weeks of revision.

It’s amazing what you hear when you read a manuscript out loud.

How can a piece sound so different out loud? Why doesn’t my brain pick up on the flaws during SSR (silent, sustained reading)? Years ago my nephew was diagnosed with an auditory processing problem, a diagnosis that helped my sister understand his style of learning (or his struggle to learn). Spoken language is just so different from the written word. Our brains process sound differently from the ways our eyes process text.

We all get the value of reading poetry out loud, but writers of novels don’t necessarily appreciate that prose can come across differently when spoken. I’m no expert in why there’s a difference. But I’m glad that I used my ears to detect what my eyes couldn’t. So much for rushing the manuscript to my agent. So much for rushing at all.

I’ve heard that J.K. Rowling apologized to her readers, saying she hadn’t been able to shorten the last few books in the Harry Potter series because she didn’t have time to edit them. The market was calling, and what the market wanted, the market got. Oh, to have Rowling’s problems, right? But for the rest of us—those with no pressure from the market—slowing down enough to read a manuscript out loud, start to finish, matters. Promise. (Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.) Read your manuscript out loud and you will hear it anew.

Organic writing

Last week I popped Katherine Applegate‘s middle-grade novel in verse, Home of the Brave, into my car’s CD player, and found myself mesmerized by the writing.  It was so good, I had to get the book in print so that I could read—not just listen—and savor her choice of words.

Applegate’s protagonist is a Sudanese boy who struggles to adjust to life in America.  Rather than using descriptive language common to Americans, Applegate infuses the novel with a Sudanese sensibility.  The boy’s observations include:

  • a cloth…soft as new grass after a good rain
  • pleading eyes that shine at you like river rocks in the sun
  • [an optimist] finds sun when the sky is dark
  • snowflakes tap at the window like stubborn mosquitoes.

Such organic writing!  These images grow out of the character and his experiences.

An author’s job is to create a fictional world and—with words alone—invite and compel a reader to slip into it.  The more organic the writing, the easier and faster the slip-slide happens…