Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Risk With Revisions

Since September, I've been engaged in this wonderful thing called revisions.

No, I'm not a sadist (or is it masochist? which one likes to be punished? I forget). I really do enjoy spending time with my characters in my story world.

But there are risks with revisions.

If you're like me, when you finished your first "this is it!" draft, you got your manuscript out to a handful of beta readers. They probably picked up a few (a thousand or so) mistakes.

If you happen to have a couple of extra bucks (or euros, or Thai Baht, or whatever you use) you might have even hired a proof reader who found every single stray comma, adverb, or you-name-the-offense that reared its ugly head in your manuscript.

But then something else happened... you discovered that you had holes. Or you could do some scenes better. Instead of telling the reader "He was pissed," you showed, "He pulled off his belt and bit into the leather, yelling until tears burnt his cheeks."

This is the area of risk.

The moment you make updates to the story, whether a line, a paragraph or a whole new chapter, you have introduced the possibility of silly errors. We are human after all, are we not?

What's my solution to this? No, I do not want to bother my eagle-eye readers, or pay a few hundred drakma to an editor again (apparently, my children have expectations of being fed).

Read Out Loud

When you are done, reread that chapter out loud. It may seem odd at first, but this is the most effective tool a self-editor must use. In fact, reading out loud is a critical piece of my revision process. I read the entire manuscript out loud and as I read, I find mistakes, and more importantly, lines that don't sound right.

Let Technology Work For you

Although you should (must) read out loud, you will not catch everything.

Sometimes, your eyes overlook the obvious. Example:

  • breath or breathe
  • through or though
  • lighting or lightening

We've all seen it happen. That one little letter gets passed us, just to embarrass us. After all, you've written the darn thing, and if you're like me, you know those lines so well that you can almost recite it without reading each word. Unfortunately, I am not able to turn off my automatic read-ahead mind. I'm not that disciplined.

As I've said before, I use (and love) Scrivener.

[Soap Box: If you don't use Scrivener, I don't understand. At $45, it is the single most powerful tool you will ever use as a writer. Visit my friend Gwen Hernandez's site to learn how to use it. Even better, sign up for her class.]

When I'm done editing, I highlight the paragraph in question, right-click and choose "Speech" --> "Start Talking."

(Note, you can do this in MS Word also, but I'd rather pretend that everyone uses Scrivener)

On the Mac, the voice of the reader is fairly decent. The beauty is that you hear the mistakes immediately. As I listen to the narrator, all I do is highlight words, or sections that sound odd. I don't edit right then and there. I don't want to miss other mistakes that the narrator may pick up.

In Scrivener (or Word) highlighting is fast. So you won't miss more than a micro second at best.

Or you can do this with hard copy of your manuscript at hand. Listen and follow along on the printed document. When something catches your ear, highlight it.

When you hit the end of the chapter. Correct the mistakes. But wait, you're not done. Listen to the corrected section one more time. Yes! Do it. Be picky. This is your work. Listen again. Make sure you didn't just introduce another mistake.

I use the computer narrator all the time. It's a powerful feature. And although listening to the whole book is time-intensive, it is invaluable. The things you hear, will surprise you. Also, the experience of hearing your story read back to you is fresh and powerful.

I highly recommend it. Give it a shot.

Do you have any special tricks? If you try this technique, let me know if it works for you.

Fight the good fight!


  1. I love this idea! I was all set to try it, but I can't find the speech function in my windows version of Scrivener...still...I'm going to go check Word and see how it works. Thanks for the great idea ^_^

  2. Yeah, the Windows version is like this hollow shell of Scrivener - why do Mac programmers disdain the PC so much?!?

    I just started Scrivener for the last NaNo and it really does help for drafting.

  3. Loralie, I'm sorry to hear that. And I guess Sophia, you've noticed the same thing. I will say this about the Scrivener developers--they listen to their customers. An email or a tweet to them goes a long way. They may have a work around for PC users.

    As a techie, I know that the Mac operating system and computers have so many nice out-of-the-box features like speech, that most developers find it easy to implement on the Mac platform and not on the PC platform.

    There are other free text to speech tools on the PC. I'm sure if you google it you'll find it.

    Thank you both for commenting. Hope it helps... once you are able to find a way to make it work :)

  4. Ara -- Sorry to be the Grinch, but in this post "there was one little letter that got PAST you... " And thanks for the suggestion! Just one more great feature of the Mac that I was unaware of.

  5. LOL! Thanks, John... I never claimed to use the tool for my posts :) Now, where is that pesky mistake?

  6. Aloha Ara,

    First, belated Merry Christmas, mon ami, and I wish you and the family a very Happy New Yar.... darn... *Year* :)

    Second, thanks as always for some great tips and I would add another option for PC users like me.... ask a spouse/friend/colleague to read the chapter while you listen and take notes.

    Also, have you ever tried It's a rocking site that helps with structure sentence with the little things at the end of and stuff like. that

  7. Merry Christmas to you too! I don't know about you, but this year felt like it took 3 months to wrap up.

    Someone else had recommended having someone read it while I took notes. But I am a shy guy (most of the time) and have a hard enough time to ask them to read my manuscript, much less put them through reading it out loud. Maybe if I promised them to get a special mention in the acknowledgments? :)

    Excellent tip on -- I had not heard of them but will definitely look into it.

  8. I have read out loud alot in the past but got out of the habit. I will need to pick it up again.

    I've looked into Scrivener and other such programs but never settled on one. But you got me thinking - maybe I do need something more than just Word.

  9. Hi Krista,
    After I used Scrivener, I never looked back. It may seem "big" at first, but you can use as little or as much of the functionality as you want. It is free for 30 days and they have a number of how to video's on their site. I must admit, I have only used the Mac version, so I can't vouch for the PC version.

  10. Ara: What a surprise to find my name in here. Thanks so much for the mention!

    I don't send out my MS to anyone until I've been through it myself a few times. Reading out loud is an amazing tool for catching errors and odd-sounding dialog. I also like to read it on my Nook. The different format seems to make problems pop. Of course, Scrivener helps make that easy too. ;-)

    Good luck with revisions! I've learned that it's where the book really gets written.

  11. Hi Gwen. You are right, revisions are when the book really gets written. It may be that I'm a relative newbie to writing (being that I have yet to sell a gazillion or even one book) but I find that the book is never really finished.

    In my case, I had a few pros critique my first three chapters at a conference, and the feedback I received inspired me but also pointed out that I need to do more of certain things, and less of others. That meant that even though I had already had my beta readers read the MS, and a proof reader proof it, I needed to do "more" editing.

    By the way, I love love love reading my ms or wips on the iPad, laying out on the couch or by the pool. It is a different experience and as you said, some things pop out as a result.

    Take care, Gwen.

  12. Ok, you've convinced me. I admit I'm a techno-challenged author. But sounds like I must try Scrivner!

  13. Susan, welcome to the side of the light :) You will not regret it. Try it for free. Watch their videos, and check out the posts by fellow writer Gwen. I think you'll love the tool :)

  14. I'm a fan of reading out loud myself. Unfortunately, I'm not very good since my eyes tend to see what isn't there - it amazes me how often I'll read the word I meant and not the word I wrote. But other than that, it's a great tool. Since I was a teacher and write YA, I pretend I'm reading to a class. It sets the mood.

  15. Paul, you raise a great point. One of the benefits of reading out loud is as you said "you'll read the word you meant not the word you wrote." Reading in silence sometimes creates sentences that seem right, but not the one that your author's voice really wants to say.

    I didn't want to admit this, but I actually play act the story when I read out loud. I may have to do a post on this topic alone. It may call for an intervention.


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