I’ve been reading Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, by Elizabeth Lyon, 2008. In my opinion, the name of the book does not mislead. If you write fiction and you want to be published, you cannot ignore this book. It is easy reading, carefully organized, and thoughtfully presented. I only wish she had provided a condensed version of her Makeover Revision Checklists found at the end of each chapter.
I would love to be able to go through a checklist that that Lyons condensed to a few pages rather than having to thumb through the book to find something.
I just finished a NaNoWriMo novel and plan to subject it to a careful analysis using her book. I do not think I’ll start at the beginning and work straight through though to the end. I already know I skimped on scenes and characterization in order to meet the 50,000-word deadline. Even if I never get my novel to a publishable state, I believe the exercise will improve my writing overall.
I like her ideas on deep listening and have adapted them in two ways. The first way is to listen to conversations and stories during the day. Then create backgrounds, characters, and endings to the stories I hear. Of course, I’m not ‘right’ in the story I’ve made up, but it leads me to listening more carefully.
The second way I’ve modified her idea is more a change in medium than in substance. She recommends reading your story aloud. I’ve had this recommendation from my professors and have seen it in other books. The truth is, when I begin to read aloud to myself, I can make it about two paragraphs, then I slide into silent reading without being aware I’m doing so.
Maybe it is a character flaw, but I just cannot read aloud to myself. So, in the wonderful world of technology, is there a solution? Ah, yes there is. You can plug in a macro to your Word program that makes it read your manuscript to you. To do this, you can go to Microsoft’s Office Support page and follow the steps for converting text to speech in Excel.
Wow, that works for me. When I’m editing, I highlight a paragraph or so, then tell the software to play back what I’ve highlighted. I read along listening to the reader’s voice instead of mine. (I just had a horrible thought; I’ve been a professor for years. If my voice puts me to sleep…). By doing this, I hear errors that I would miss if I was reading my own work, even if I was reading aloud.
I’ve noticed I incorrectly read my works to say what I think they should say, not what they say. That blind spot can allow me to ‘read over’ a mistake many times without seeing it. However, if someone else is saying it, even an electronic voice, I hear the mistake.
I don’t know why this works better for me, but it does.