Monday, February 24, 2014

Editing Out Loud and Why Every Writer Should Have a Dog

Luckily, I have two dogs, so if I can't get a consensus, then I know I have a problem.

My manuscript is still in the queue to get on the query-go-round, but I'm within sight of the ticket booth. The twentieth revision of the query letter and synopsis permanently live in the tray on my homepage and I take another swipe at them at least once a day.

As I wait for beta notes to filter in, I am also taking my book, section at a time, and giving it the ultimate stress test. I'm reading it out loud. This is where having dogs comes in handy. Typically, they love the sound of your voice and will sit at your feet for hours listening or napping. Such an attentive audience keeps me going:

Scruffy loves the car chase scene.
The point about reading it out loud is the clunkers will shine like neon in the night. Here is what I've typically been finding:

1.  Places where the dialogue doesn't ring true or run smooth. If my brain auto-corrects something in the speech, then my fingers should manually correct it on the page. Really, don't overthink this one. Especially if you are trying to capture patois in your dialogue. As one of my characters responds to the question about how he knew the meeting was a trap:

"There was something wrong about him. Linguistics isn't just about the words, it's the whole package. His accent and cadence told me he was play-acting and trying to sound foreign. English was not his second language. I don't know where his parents might have come from, but he was as Texan as I am. So I told him to go fuck himself, and I didn't say it nicely."

In dialogue, the cadence is as important, if not more important, than the actual words. There is one chapter where there are few words over four letters. It is pretty intense. Reading it out loud was entertaining. I envisioned myself at the open mic at a conference. Hey, if I won't say it out loud, it's unlikely I can type it in a way that has the tang of authenticity.

On the subject as English as a second language. A hint I got from someone who knows of what they speak, and that works for me, is if you have a character with an accent, rather than trying to write it out phonetically, adjust the cadence.

Before going with, "Zees is zee silliest theeng I have ever zeen," try first eliminating all contractions and idiom.

When you learn a second language, your speech is stilted and formal until you are fluent enough to adopt local usage. I remember getting around in Mexico and France pretty much on noun/verb pairs and hand signals.

2.  The next thing reading out loud tells you is passages that are too damn long. I found several. It was taking too many breaths to get through the paragraph. My main character was being tortured, for heaven's sake, I did not need to digress, at length, into the location of the three flash drives that the bad guy needed to get what he wanted. That one has bothered me since I read it last night. Tonight, I fix it.

3.  I'm limiting my reading sessions to thirty minutes. After that, my throat gets scratchy and I lose my enthusiasm.

4. Because enthusiasm is key. This is the audio version of the damn novel that has lived in my head for months. Play to the rafters. Give your characters different voices and test out the cadence of the dialogue. Speed up and slow down the action. Test drive it right into the wall.

These late night sessions really do work best with a forgiving audience:

Foxy loves a happy ending. 
Note: I read this post out loud and now have a black eye from face-palming myself for typing the phrase "answered in response." The dogs earned a treat for having to listen to that clunker.



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