Edit, edit, edit! (part one)

Do you hear what I hear?
(Part one in a series on the perils of editing)

Probably one of the most hated things that writers have to do is edit. Whether we send our query to an agent with hopes of being picked up or we go down the increasingly popular road of self-publishing, editing our book is something that cannot be overlooked or taken lightly.

When we first write our book, we really just write for the sake of telling the story. We don’t care much for proper grammar or the other gazillion rules of writing. A story is brewing in our souls, and like any other living, breathing organism that continually expands while trapped within a tiny container, it must come out.

Once we’re done telling our story, the brutal task of editing begins. If we think we had a lot of typos when we begin, we have even more after that first round of edits. Why? Because we change sentences (flow and structure), we change the order of sentences and paragraphs, we add scenes while cutting others, we may even mess with our characters. When you make so many changes to a manuscript, there are bound to be some problems. Verb confusion. Storyline consistency. Timeline jumps. Incomplete information. It happens to every writer when they attempt that first edit.

How do we avoid leaving in all the mess? We edit again, and again, and again, and then our eyes start to bleed, but we keep editing…again, and again, and again, and still some more. But we still miss things. Our eyes are susceptible to the same fallacies as everyone else’s. If a word is missing, our eyes tell us it’s there. If something is misspelled, our eyes tell us it’s correct. If we put two words in the wrong order, our eyes reverse it for us. Our eyes become our worst enemy.

So how do we stop our eyes from destroying our work? What hope do we have if we can’t trust our own sense of sight?

We use our ears. This is the one tool –and a very important one– that writers forget to use. Our ears can catch mistakes our eyes never will. By reading our story aloud, line by line, we hear our mistakes. But we can’t read fast…the reading must be deliberate, and we must truly read every single word. If we have problems reading it, Adobe PDF offers tools that can read our words to us, like a book on tape without all the inflections and dramatic tones. This way, we can hear the words for what they really are, and errors stand out more than ever before.

But take this idea of reading your manuscript aloud to a new level. Read it yourself, but play the parts of your characters. If you have a dramatic line, read it as your character would say it. If they have action in the middle of dialogue (such as shaking their head, huffing, sighing, grunting, or laughing) add that in, too. By doing things like this, you will hear if the dialogue sounds real or sounds forced. You’ll hear if those little actions you’ve worked into the dialogue actually work. If you’re silently reading your book, you may not realize that guttural laugh doesn’t really sound right after your character says, “I think I’ll go to the store later.”

By reading your book aloud and verbally acting out your dialogue, you’ll not only find those hidden mistakes, but your characters will build themselves into well-rounded, three-dimensional people. And that’s what you need them to be for your readers to believe in them…and you.

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