Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 2

So my first tip in this series was to look things up if you don't know them.  Seems intuitive enough, right?  Well, my second tip for effectively editing your own work might not be as obvious...

2)  Read it out loud.

I mean exactly what this your work out loud to yourself.  Or you can read it out loud to some lucky person you've suckered into listening.  Doesn't really matter.  Just make sure you read it--ALL of it--out loud.  Slowly.

Why do this, you ask?  Won't this take forever?

Yes, it can.  But reading your manuscript aloud to yourself can help you find errors, particularly of the kind that result in wonky-sounding sentences, that you wouldn't find otherwise.  Trust me on this.  Something about hearing it for real rather than in your head makes you process the words in a different way.  If it sounds strange out loud, it sounds strange on paper and you can fix it.  This is especially effective with dialogue--if it doesn't sound natural (or sounds like something George Lucas would write) when it leaves your own lips, think how wooden and clunky it's going to sound in the reader's head.

George, we must work on that dialogue.  Try reading it aloud first, okay?
I know, I know.  You have questions...

"Can I read it in my head-voice that sounds like Morgan Freeman?"

No.  It has to be aloud.  You need to hear the words with your real ears.  But if you can get Morgan Freeman to read it to you, that would also work.

"Can I just mouth the words so I don't sound like a crazy person talking to themselves?"

Again, you need to hear the words you've written for this to be of any help to you.  Otherwise you'll have just spent hours mouthing and/or silently reading your own manuscript over again and won't have had any of the extra benefit from this exercise to you or your work.  Any read-through is helpful, but out loud is especially so.

"Okay, then.  Can I read it out loud to my cat/dog/invisible friend/life-size cut-out of Thor?"

Yes. This you can do. Though if any of these things start talking back to you, you may want to take a break for a little while.  Just sayin'.

"Thor, why is this ignorant mortal
reading us her
pathetic romance novel?"
"Brother, I promised that
we would silently listen.
Behave yourself or you're getting the muzzle again."

Sorry.  That got away from me for a second.

Another way to go about this is to have someone else (like the above-mentioned Morgan Freeman) read your work to you.  It will accomplish the same thing, though you might have less control over the pace and how things sound.  Recently I tried reading a paper out loud while the author was in the room. It was obviously a very early first draft because he actually got annoyed with me while I verbally stumbled over his wording.  I then very nicely suggested that he read it aloud to himself in order to fix the wonkiness before having me look at it again.

Have you tried reading your work out loud?  Did you find it helpful?

Until part #3...

xoxo Sarah


  1. This works even for fanfics. I have recommended this more times than I can count! LOL And it works especially well for me with contractions. You think when you are writing that you will not use contractions so it sounds more professional. The problem also sounds stilted and awkward, especially in dialogue. People just do not talk like that. (Do you see what I did there? LOL) Anyway, great post, Sarah, seriously. :)

    1. So glad you liked it! It definitely works for any kind of writing, and you're totally right about the contraction thing. It especially sounds odd in dialogue because no one says "I did not do it" or things like that. Keep recommending this tip, Jenny! :-)

  2. I like to use text to speech software... It's kinda entertaining in a cringe worthy way

    1. Huh, I never thought about doing that!