Thursday, August 6, 2009
My daughter, Serious Girl, is a tough audience. She has all her books and songs memorized, and will let you know with an angry wail if you've gotten anything wrong. This makes for problematic story-time if, for example, I'm also trying to cook dinner, and she's holding the book on the other side of the kitchen, and I'm trying to read the story upside down or remember the words when I can't even see what page she's on.
She used to only object to big mistakes like skipping an entire sentence, but now she will vociferously protest if I say "mama says" instead of "says mama" when reading her Five Little Monkeys book. She howled when I said "will" instead of "may" while reading Dr. Seuss. And she recently burst into tears during a rendition of The Three Little Pigs when I said "a" instead of "the" during a critical scene. It was past her bedtime, but this still seemed to be disproportionate reaction to me at the time, especially since I've NEVER read this story in book form, and she was instead insisting that my own personal invented/memorized version of the bedtime story be nearly identical night after night.
Still, I'm starting to think she may have a point. Will and may do, in fact, have extremely different meanings, as do the and a. (I hold the line at "mama says" vs. "says mama", however. I firmly believe that those are complete functional equivalents.)
How nitpicky do you get during edits? One can't get this language-obsessed during a first draft or the story will never be written (or, okay, you'll end up spending 3+ years on the thing like I did because my internal editor lives for this kind of parsing), but I think that once you've got a clean draft -- no more "insert chapter here" notations in the margins -- that it is worth doing this kind of editorial thinking.
Can you do it yourself? Do you need to hand it off to someone else? Do you not worry about it unless the sentence is kind of jarring to you on the page and clearly needs some help?
For me, I can't do this kind of editing on the computer, but it comes pretty naturally to me if I'm reading a printed page. (I think legal training helps in this arena.) However. I don't think you're really done until you have read the manuscript aloud to actually listen for these nuances... I've also heard that some people recommend reading the manuscript backwards, but I think that would make my head explode.
Please read your finished novel out loud. Yes, it's crazy time-consuming. But some stuff looks great on the page, and sounds just ridiculous. And it's not just for the novel's dialogue: all parts of the novel should work when read aloud, I promise you. The rhythm is there, in people's heads as they read, and you just may be too close to the work for your own internal reader to catch it. So make that reader external, and you'll be amazed at what you find.
My daughter knows how to catch mistakes in a story that's being read out loud. You should, too.
Have you ever read your work out loud? Publicly or privately? Did you catch anything? I once caught a sentence like "she was wearing a cotton sweater made of cotton" only after reading it out loud. And it was in the first 10 pages of the novel -- that's embarrassing.
And, the fun question: who do you want to read the audiobook of your novel? Do you want to do it yourself? (I do!) Or is there some celebrity who might perhaps do the work justice?