Thursday, July 1, 2010

Editing Methods

With the Fourth of July coming up, my family and I headed south to Florida to visit some relatives in West Palm Beach, and knowing that that would mean a good ten hours or more in the car with not much else to do but sleep, eat, drive, or read, I thought it'd be a good idea to print out act 4.4 of Identity, "Water," and look over a hard copy for errors. This isn't something I've done before, but I'd heard it could be useful. People look differently at words on a page, after all, even compared to words on a screen, and a good bit of the editing process is about taking the words out of a familiar zone and putting them into some other place, where you can't just skim over them and know what they say but actually have to read.

In the past, I used to read my chapters aloud from time to time. This can be very useful for dealing with the small-scale structure of a work. You have to pay more attention to sentence structure and syllabic rhythm--the kinds of things that will make readers get bogged down in the writing if you do them wrong, just because the words don't flow. It's important, but this method can be time consuming, and with a lot of the Japanese names in Identity, I admit I rather lost patience for this method, if only because I felt I was spending more time trying to pronounce names correctly and yet reconcile that with normal English cadence and vowels. It was, in short, a bit jarring any way I did it.

It's at this point I must admit I've never had a beta reader. I've always paid a lot of technical attention to the things that tend to get overlooked by some would-be writers: punctuation and spelling. That's not to say I started out a good writer; I'm quite sure I wasn't when I was 13 or so, which is when I began. I've actually written quite a bit since then and still have a lot of ideas to expand upon, and with each story, writing improves. I think that's natural. I think we all improve as we learn by repetition. Eventually, you get a feel for things you found difficult and can focus on even more difficult and challenging tasks. And that's good.

But I've never had a beta, in part because I feel there must be many different types of betas for many skill levels of writers. There are betas who may only be technical proofreaders, but there are likely others who are adept at critical reading, finding holes, and giving feedback on them. Writers don't often have the keenest sense of what's clear to a reader. I feel I don't need much technical work--just another set of eyes to catch the odd mistake--but perhaps the input of a beta as to pacing, plot, characterization...those could be useful. Truth be told, though, I really don't know how that whole process works.

I did take my hard copy of "Water" with me and looked over it, and I felt that was a constructive process. It gives me the opportunity to identify things I dislike or want to change without the pressure of actually fixing them on the spot, which is good. That's something that can be done with LaTeX comments, too. I did use LaTeX to format the chapter in a monospace font double-line-spaced manuscript. That's something some publishers want a writer to do, anyway, and it gives some flexibility for me: I can keep one template to look like a book and another to format the novel like a typewritten manuscript and not have to change the content from one to the other. But anyway, I like having this printed-out copy of the chapter, and I may do that again in the future. We'll see.

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