“A mere friend will agree with you, but a real friend will argue.”
– Russian Proverb
Well! Back to business. That pesky process of editing that pesky novel, which at this point has probably been sitting unfinished for far too long.
I know mine has. Due to the dragging of my own feet as well as the busyness of others, the final clean-up of my manuscript is being stretched out much longer than I’d have liked. I suppose I should be grateful that the universe is forcing me to take my time on the last polish-up of my work, but I’m not. I’m just ready to declare it done.
And so tonight I blog about what I like to call “Stage 3” out of the three stages of editing. First, there was basic plot tidying up. Then there was the deep, word-by-word scrub. And now, voilà, the final rinse-off, then your baby is all clean and ready to be shown off (alright, in my defense, that sounded much less creepy in my head).
So. What, then, is my final test before I declare my work complete?
Glad you asked! In theory, after plot errors and wording errors are nailed down, the manuscript should be perfect. Technically speaking, there should be not a single blemish in all of its eighty or ninety thousand words.
But we both know better than that, don’t we?
Okay, enough dancing around the solution. I’ll just tell you: my final test is I read the entire manuscript aloud. Cover to cover, as a matter of fact.
But wait, there’s more!
Remember those pesky Ideal Readers I mentioned about a week and a half ago? The ones who are the living definition of the kind of people I write for? The ones who are so level-headed that if they like the finished product, you know without a doubt that it’s ready?
Yeah, I kind of have to read the manuscript to them.
Allow me to explain why.
The final read-through is when you put your story to the test. Remember all those times in the writing room when you read over a particularly putrid bit of dialogue, cringed and said to yourself “I’ll fix it later”? or, even worse, “I’m sure it sounds better to other people”?
Well: there is no later. And, to really put a pin in your balloon: it probably doesn’t sound better to other people.
But I’m getting off track. Here’s my point: reading aloud forces you to make the book as perfect as you can get it. Your brain—or mine, at least—just can’t engage in “make it perfect” mode if the book is being read in the privacy of your locked bedroom.
But then you read your story out loud, to…oh goodness, people! Human beings, with beating hearts and pituitary glands and real ears that connect to real minds that are analyzing your story as you read!
Am I making any sense here? By reading your story out loud to the people you wrote it for, the point isn’t so much what they say about it as what you say to them about it. If you have to pause in the middle of a sentence and apologize for how bad it is—which, I’m sorry to say, I’ve already done several times—then that’s a flaming red flag you need to take care of.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we need other people to push us to be better. And there is no one more perfect in the world to push me than the ones who the story is meant for. The fact of the matter is, I would rather fight off a pack of rabid squirrels with a spork than read my ideal readers something that isn’t my best. Call it the pride that comes with being an author, the nerves that come with being human, or the love that comes with friendship. All three are here. And all three together are what get me in the mode to find any final errors in my story.
When I sit down with my laptop, look my two IR’s in the eye and start to read them my book, if there’s a single freaking word out of place, I catch it. Instantly. And I have to apologize that it isn’t perfect, that I’m not either, and then I make a furious mark on the document to fix the error later.
And if one or both of your ideal readers tells you it’s bad? Well, then you just go cry in a corner.
Kidding. But as the epigraph of this post states, real friends argue with you. More often than not, it’s for a reason.
One of my favorite songs, Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” has a lyric I absolutely love. It says, and forgive all the spacing:
“I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing
Roman cavalry choirs are singing
‘Be my mirror; my sword and shield,
My missionaries in a foreign field.’”
I’m charging into a battle where my odds of survival are hilariously low. And yes, I’ll probably fail. But the first step to surviving an impossible battle is to have a good sword and shield to defend yourself against whatever the world might throw at you.
And I have the best two anyone could ask for.