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I’m on an editing kick, apparently. That’s kind of funny, considering this blog has almost no editing to it, what-s0-ever. Mostly, I just run my fingers across the keyboard and see what gets spit out. Right, so that editing that’s been happening has a lot to do with, again, the SixFold competition. Reading a story out loud bring in the potential to see flaws that your mind glosses over when reading silently.

I find this trick slightly strange. Thinking back, I’ve known about this editing tool since about 8th grade. Oddly, not from an Language Arts class or English class, but from my home room and science teacher. It’s a mental illusion. You hold up a card that reads “Tell me where the the problem in this sentence is.” Then have the person read the sentence out loud. Most times, they’ll do a double take when they realize that they just read the word “the” twice. When reading the sentence mentally, readers almost always gloss over the second “the” because it makes no sense.

The same logic applies to editing ones own work. And yet, somehow, I’m always amazed how well that works. Gaps in grammar that I take for granted when speaking to another person, the pause’s, the punctuation’s, and exclamation’s all come tumbling out to the fore front. Editing with a red pen can only take me so far.

This isn’t to say that I think editing silently doesn’t have a place. Certainly, earlier drafts should mostly be editing by hand, but even then, I find myself reading along out loud, catching words and phrases that I otherwise might not pay attention to. The reading aloud is really an example of fine tuning a product. Where do I want to put emphasis, what pauses and grammatical structure might I miss without considering how the structure sounds.

A good rule of thumb (for me at least) seems to be that if the sentence becomes too unwieldy by itself, when read aloud, it probably needs to be trimmed. Sometimes, run on sentences are important. But often, they’re just missing the point. Also, the reverse also happens. I find sentences or incomplete thoughts I had otherwise assumed complete. The perfect example of “the the”.

For comparisons sake, below is a passage from my manuscript, chapter 3.

With only the wind for filler, he waited. Oberon shuffled in the snow. His gaze would not meet Sypher’s.

“Dani Ash is dead.”

The words curled around Sypher’s feet, an inescapable bog. He’d known the Ash’s pup. As a Hawq, he’d seen her many times in the court of the Safehaven. A season younger than him, she’d still been two terms ahead. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been fighting Greyhaven. Part of him regretted that. He hadn’t said hi to her in moonnights.

“Yeah?” He knew how this story ended.

“Trying to get into the ruins.”

“Yeah?” Sypher cocked an eyebrow. “And who tells you rumors?”

“People who want you to know.” Oberon shrugged, annoyed.

Sypher let out a low whistle. He’d seen that coming.

“What happened?” he asked.

Oberon shrugged, again. “Rumors say she tried to get past the barriers that separate us,” he nodded towards the ruins, “and that. Charlie was with her.”

“The Wyndam’s pup? The sparrow?”

Oberon nodded. “Said she tried to get in. That her hand just spun to ash, right back up her arm till only dust drifted on the winds.” He swallowed. “Said she was alive when it happened. That her screams made the walls shudder.”

They’d both known Ash. Mostly by familial association, her mother governed as a High Lady of the southern continent. A High Lady. Not one of the Elite’s Lancers.

Badly shaken, Oberon perched against the ledge.

“Think she was trying to impress her mother?” Oberon looked up. He seemed plaintiff.

This is a great example. When trying to set a sense for the pacing, I missed the initial problems with the flow. When I read the passage around, I found that I needed to rearrange it. Otherwise, Sypher’s reactions seem oddly disconnected. His anticipation of Oberon’s response is dulled. So, in the edit, I rearranged the details, condensing them but also fixing seemingly minor grammatical errors.

With only the wind for filler, he waited. Oberon shuffled in the snow. His gaze would not meet Sypher’s.

“Dani Ash is dead.”

The words curled around Sypher’s feet, an inescapable bog. He knew how this story ended.

“Trying to get into the ruins.”

“Yeah?” Sypher cocked an eyebrow. “And who tells you rumors?”

“People who want you to know.” Oberon shrugged, annoyed.

Sypher let out a low whistle. “What happened?”

Oberon shrugged, again. “Rumors say she tried to get past the barriers.” He nodded towards the ruins. “Charlie was with her.”

“The Wyndam’s pup? The sparrow?”

Oberon nodded. “Said she tried to get in. That her hand just spun to ash, right back up her arm till only dust drifted on the winds.” He swallowed. “Said she was alive when it happened. That her screams made the walls shudder.”

Not the professors pendantic barrier then; real magic, the kind only the stagnant ruins generated.

They’d both known Ash. Mostly by familial association, her mother governed as a High Lady of the southern continent. A High Lady. Not one of the Elite’s Lancers. As a Hawq, he’d seen her many times in the court of the Safehaven. A season younger than him, she’d been two terms ahead. Maybe they’d been friends. Maybe? The last time he’d seen her, she’d been fighting Greyhaven. Part of him regretted that. He hadn’t said hi to her in moonnights.

Badly shaken, Oberon perched against the ledge.

“Think she was trying to impress her mother?” Oberon looked up. He seemed plaintiff.

Sypher nodded. “Probably…”

This reads much better. It’s not a perfect example of what reading aloud will find, but it is a good one, due to it’s beneficial impact on not only the grammar but pacing and structure of the scene.

Obviously, reading aloud during editing is not a perfect solution, but reading out loud adds another layer to the editing process. The major draw back to this application is the time consumption. Read out loud, making sure you’re reading what you actually put on the page and not what you thought you put takes time. Reading the same paragraph over and over can grate on the ears. But, it’s more effective that reading what you think you’re supposed to.

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