Brown River Queen cover art

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Zen of Editing

If you've been wondering what Frank is doing these days and you guessed 'a brief stay in the Lafayette County Detention Facility,' well, you'd be wrong.

I've been editing. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I finished the first draft of the new Markhat novel, BROWN RIVER QUEEN.

Sure, there was wild celebration. About eight minutes of it. Because finishing a first draft gets writing the first draft out of the way, true, but it also ushers in the next phase of the process, which is the edit and re-write stage. Or, as I call it, the 'Flaying off my own skin with a rusty butter knife' stage.

First drafts are, for me anyway, limping, misshapen things. Let's say I forget the name of a street I mentioned 34 pages ago. I don't stop and go back and look -- I just type ****, which is my code for 'Go back and look this up, doofus.'

Same for the names of minor characters. The wine steward from Chapter 4? ****.  The date, if I've lost track of it? ****.

All those **** entries have to be cleaned up. Spell-check has to run.  I do my own searches on the words I habitually screw up -- discrete and discreet, I'm looking at you two. I also run searches on the characters I tend to transpose.

Then comes the re-read. Here I'm looking for repetition. Bad alliteration. Dialog tags that repeat or don't fit or are missing altogether. Plot holes. Subplots I may have started and then dropped. Notes I wrote to myself and stuck in the manuscript and forgot about. The last thing you want to do is leave an editor scratching her head over entries such as 'Make RT kr.ull w/o 9 of the thing.' You don't want to bring undue attention to the fact that you're making this stuff up as you go.

So yeah. It gets messy.

All this before I ever consider sending the manuscript out. In fact, I like to do all this more than once, because it's so easy to miss things. I know what I meant to write, and my traitorous lazy brain sees those words, and not the ones my fingers actually typed.

This time around, though, I've added a new practice to my usual round or re-reads and edits. For the frist time, I'm having my PC read the whole book, from start to end, aloud to me, while I turn away from the screen and jot down notes by hand on a notepad.

Word 2010 has a built-in speech function. I wish I had Word 2010. Word 2010 runs about one hundred and twenty bucks. Instead, I have Word 2007, which is 2010's mute sire. So I found a free text-to-speech program on CNET called Hal Text-to-Speech Reader, and I'm using that.

I pull up the actual Word file and copy an entire chapter. Then I paste that into Hal and grab my notepad. It's slow, even after setting the read rate to just below AUCTIONEER INSANE, but wow is it effective.

I've already read through the whole thing twice, and was feeling pretty good about the state of the manuscript-- until Hal started reading to me, in her robotic flat voice. Mistakes that sailed right past my eyes leaped out screaming in my ears.

Here are a few examples, taken straight my my notepad:

twenty of more (should have been twenty or more)
isn't hat right (should have been isn't that right)
is a good as (should have been is as good as)
to and from (should have been to and fro)

Those are hard to catch, when they're hiding in several hundred pages of text. But my ears caught them with no trouble at all.

I am weary of the robotic voice and the complete lack of inflection, though. And the often hilarious pronunciation of words and names I made up myself.

But it's still a good system.

The edits on BROWN RIVER QUEEN are going quickly, all things considered.

In other news, if you wanted to grab a copy of my YA fantasy book ALL THE PATHS OF SHADOW but  also wanted to wait for the price to fall, you're in luck! You can get the e-book from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble or the publisher for only $3.99, which is six bucks off the former price.

Here are some links, so click away!

All the Paths of Shadow at Amazon for your Kindle

All the Paths of Shadow at Barnes & Noble for your Nook

All the Paths of Shadow at Cool Well Press in any format


  1. Laughing out loud! Why is it funny when it happens to you and so DREADFUL when it happens to me while editing??? WHY????

  2. Using your ears as a second pair of eyes, clever!

  3. Maria, everything is funny when it happens to me. You should hear the ER doctors laugh!

    April, I believe my ears are much sharper than my eyes!