Thursday, November 25, 2010

Parallel Editing

After making several passes through a novel manuscript, I reach a point where I need other people to look at it, read it, and laugh and point.  What I've done for years is collect several trusted readers to act as my review board.  I print out a copy for each, comb bound, and ask them to read it with a pen in hand to mark up every little thing that occurs to them.

It's worked well.  I get typo corrections, marginal notes about story structure, and personal anecdotes that the story has triggered in the reader's own mind. I take all of these and use them to make the story better.

In this novel, Bearing Northeast, I've been through the marked up copies twice.  At first, I read through each mostly ignoring the typos and getting the big picture comments.  Using that insight, I made numerous structural changes and additions to the storyline.  Then, I laid all of the books out side by side on the kitchen table and turned the pages in sync, looking at everyone's page one, then page two, etc.  This time, I was tracking down all the errant words and misplaced commas and awkward sentences that they had found.  It's interesting that although some reviewers are better at catching errors than others, no one person caught all of the typos--it took them all, and even then, I caught some that no one else did.

There's another advantage of the parallel review.  Sometimes one reviewer will dislike a word or sentence, but no one else minds.  Sometimes it just down to my style vs theirs and if it's just one flag, then I can afford to go my own way.  But if five of those reviews all mark the same place on the page, then I know I've got something that needs serious re-writing.  My taste is one thing, but if it trips up multiple readers, then it needs to change.

It was backbreaking work, to lean across the table and turn all those pages.  But it's what I've done before and it works.  The novel is so much better for the process.  You can see the names of all my review board on the acknowledgement page.  They're a big part of what makes the books readable.

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