Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Editing Tip - Read Your Story Out Loud

I do think that many writers get a sense of tunnel vision when they are working on their stories. They are completely hung up on seeing that chapter through to the end that their brain and their fingers really have a disconnect. The end result is often a plot or storyline that is great, but writing that really falls flat on its face. Unfortunately, as an agent, I see this a lot. The submission comes across my desk or I hear a pitch and I am totally in love with the story idea. But then we see the writing. Ugh.

One easy technique to fixing this is to read the story out loud to yourself, or heck, read it to your significant other. You can even have someone else read it out loud to you. You will start to hear patterns in your writing as well as many of those huge factors that might be hiding behind that great scene you wanted to tell.

So what are you looking for?

  • Conversations that lack emotion
These are those issues of telling vs. showing. Writers often have information they want to get to the reader so they have they characters pass the information on. Now, there is nothing wrong with this approach, however, if the conversation is doing just that and nothing more, the writing will be flat.

I will say that some of this stems from the constant pushing by writers of not using adjectives and adverbs in their writing. Although we are trying to get you to have a more active voice in your writing, you will find that grammar books often say there is nothing wrong with using passive voice, adjectives or adverbs. The point is that you don't want to rely on these for your only form of showing emotion. 
  • Repetitive phrasing
This is one that does change from one story to the next and definitely needs an outside eye to see the mistakes. Let me give you one example of this (and yes I am going to pick on one of my writers for this. Don't worry, we are working though this). The author has three sisters in the story. One of them is always the person who talks first in a group meeting and always does the introductions. In the first 2 chapters they meet several people and she introduces them the same way. "Hi, I am X and this are my sisters Y and Z." I do understand there are so many ways you can introduce a person, but it comes across as if the writer is cutting and pasting phrases.
  • Conversations that go no where
This one comes as a result of an author being in one scene, knowing they have to get to another scene and have no idea how they are going to do it. So, the solution the author comes up with is a conversation between the two characters. This is nothing more than small talk. Does this happen in real life? Of course it does, but we also know that these conversations are often dull, boring and really drag on. The conversation doesn't really come to life until one of the people finds a way to get the conversation into the area that they really wanted to talk about.

When it comes to your stories, if you really want to get them to the next scene, then just take them there. If the "small talk conversation" on the drive to the restaurant is boring, then just move them to dinner with the phrase, "The ride to El Mucho Burrito was uneventful but now Hubert was faced with bringing up the conversation of his being an Alien to Harriet."

  • Narratives that are too long and detract from the story
This is the same thing as the conversations, but often revolves around information dumps. Remember that when we have a narrative, it does slow the pacing of the story down a lot. There is nothing wrong with this, but please remember you have to use the narratives wisely.

The hard thing about writing is that we do have to rely on both sides of our brain. Getting that story told is one thing, but stories are about entertaining. We don't want to be bored, especially if this is a submission!

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