As someone who is in her own head a majority of the time, this was a huge shock to me. My writing was being read aloud.
This makes it real. And scary.
I read the first chapter until the first major point when my MC discovers a way to escape home. It took me about 20 minutes to read the 12 pages without rushing through, speaking as if I was telling a story.
Here’s what I learned:
1. It’s EXHAUSTING!
Everything today can be done with instant gratification. You want to know a fact? Look it up on google. You’re bored? Open up Pokemon Go on your phone or flip on Netflix and binge watch The Office.
Sometimes, writing can become too haphazard if you write too fast or expect instant gratification. Of course, sometimes being haphazard means that you actually get the words down on the page, but right now, it’s editing time!
Editing means being careful and meticulous. It’s really the only way to be sure that you’re achieving the desired effect for your readers.
This activity was very time consuming. To read twelve pages, it took me more than 20 minutes. I didn’t even get through a whole chapter! To read my entire book (400 pages) it will take me more than 11 hours.
Now, if I plan my time wisely, I could potentially get through my whole novel this way. It will be tedious, but the pay-off would be enormous. I made about 20 corrections in 12 pages that I felt was already pretty solid. That’s also between six and seven HUNDRED corrections, likely more, that you can make on your own, without a content editor or copy editor.
I think it’s worth it.
2. PACING is everything.
You have moments where the pace slows down and you start to become bored. There were also spots where I felt left empty, like there was something incomplete before I moved on to the next thing. As I read, I marked these places with an asteric to remind myself to go back and fix them.
Because I had already spent so much time working this chapter, it was already fairly polished, and the pacing was good. But I had unearthed some problems earlier by plotting out the scenes (I’ll write a post about that here pretty soon).
Scenes are usually between 1,000-3,000 words (because my novel is YA, they were about 1,500) and include one place, one group of characters, or one main plot device or idea. I discovered that I had some “scenes” that were incomplete… most of the incomplete ones were about 600 words. These were the places that I felt the pace moved too quickly.
Also, as a writer, I like to pontificate quite a bit. I like to know what my characters are thinking and the depth of their psychology when they make decisions. However, and please remember this one:
When characters reflect on what’s going on, the pace slows to that of a snail.
I’m not saying that reflecting is bad. We need to somehow learn what a character thinks, or else you, the reader, probably won’t develop a connection to that character. But too much reflecting can really bog down the plot.
Let the character’s thoughts and feelings come through in their dialogue and actions. Save the reflecting when they REALLY have something to ponder over. (That one will have to be a separate post as well.)
3. ADVERBS are evil.
My first chapter is the one that is most refined. I’ve worked it again and again. I felt that it was in pretty good shape, and yet I still found places that were ridiculous.
These were moments that became obvious to me that words were out of order, or something was preventing the sentence from being smooth and flowing. 9 out of 10 times, that something was an adverb.
For those of you who don’t remember from 7th grade English what an adverb is, it usually ends in “ly” and it describes an adjective. Adverbs are the road to hell.
“hustled” is always stronger than “walked quickly”
“shouted” is always better than “said loudly”
The worst part about all of this? I know how evil adverbs are, and I still used them in excess! There were sentences that I had used three or four adverbs! I want to be descriptive, but let’s find a better way, shall we? Here was a sample sentence out of my novel.
Breathing heavily, he stepped easily through the hole and landed solidly on the other side.
Are you kidding? I wrote that? It’s crap. UGH! And I didn’t even notice it until I read it aloud.
Alright, now that I’m done complaining about my lack of writing talent, let’s fix it.
How do you breathe heavily? You can heave or pant. Breathing is the same as inhaling and exhaling. We’ll come back to that one.
What about easily stepping through something. He could slide, or move or maneuver.
And landing solidly? Planting his feet? Grounding himself?
Panting, he manuevered through the hole and grounded himself on the other side.
Panting, he slid through the hole and planted his feet on the other side.
That’s a little closer to the imagery that I wanted.
Inhaling, he slid through the hole and planted his feet firmly on the other side.
Okay, I put an adverb back in, but one adverb won’t kill me… three will.
Inhaling, he slid through the hole and, planting his feet firmly on the other side, stood up.
That might be too much.
Panting, he slid through the hole and planted his feet firmly on the other side. He stood.
I’ll put it back into context to see how it works best, but now you can understand my process. It’s not a science. It’s an art form.
Reading your novel aloud to yourself can help you make hundreds of little improvements that can add up to make a world of difference.
Your goal as a writer should be to evoke a particular emotion, thought, or image for your readers, and you can do that only by constructing sentences. It’s not easy.
Things to keep in mind:
As the author, you are tainted because you’ve heard this a million times already. You have thought through the scene and contemplated each word as you carefully crafted each sentence, paragraph, page…. You might want to have someone else read it aloud, or do the listening. This way, you get a new perspective.
So what do you think? Have you done this before? Are you willing to give it a try?