Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Listen To Your Words

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

Have you ever gotten to a point in your writing when the words blur together? They're coming out onto the page, but without direction?

Me too.

I’m working on the final edits of a novel I’ve titled SHROUD OF LIES. The edits were going well until I reached a scene that involves my PI, Rhonie Lude, questioning the woman she’s been paid to investigate.

The chapter started off fine, but quickly got bogged down with lengthy descriptions and long stretches of dialogue that had gotten lost on their way to making a point. The worst part was that I knew there was a problem with the scene, but no matter how many times I read it, I still couldn’t "see" it.

When this happens, I find that reading the text out loud often helps. For some reason, this time it didn't. I decided to take it a step further and recorded myself reading the chapter. I wasn’t concerned about the tone of my voice or how many times I tripped over words. All I was listening for was the flow—did the set of questions and answers I’d given the characters make sense? Was the interaction between the characters tense enough to make the reader turn the page? The minute I played it back I knew what worked, what needed to be moved, and what had to be cut. This is were the real test of your nerve will come into play. Ruthless edits and cuts are often the sure cure for a chapter section that drags.

Next time you can’t pinpoint the problem in a chapter, record yourself reading it. You’ll be amazed at how quickly problems like repeated words, awkward phrases, excessive use of pronouns and inappropriate punctuation will jump out and beg to be fixed.

To listen to this video tip go to Novel Works and scroll down to the bottom of the page!

About the author:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery),


Joylene Nowell Butler said...

This is excellent advice, Marta. I've been using a program on Mac where I read aloud, then have the scene recorded back to me. It's uncanny how many mistakes jump out. I'm able to hear where the gaps are, then fill them in. Can't imagine my life without Mac.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marta, very sound advice. I use the technique a lot to help me smooth out the prose. It's amazing what sounds okay in your head when you're reading it silently, and what pops out when you read aloud!

Joylene, what program are you using on your Mac? Is it Garage Band? I'm still learning about the programs on my new Mac (I love it, but it just went bellyup and is in the shop! ACK!), and would like to hear how you're using it.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

lol, is that what Garage Band is for? I thought it had something to do with creating a band. lol. I'm still learning about my Mac too.

I use NaturalReader 9.0 becuz it's easy and it's free. You save the file as a MP3 to Itune's then play it back from there.

I wasn't sure if it would still work for large files, so i keep them short. I also set the speed to 2 becuz it alerts me to any problems better.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

oops, my mistake. Its NaturalReader Mac 2.0, not 9.0

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thanks, Joylene. I'll check out Natural Reader! Hadn't heard of that one yet. ;o)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Aaron, do you know if Garage Band does the same?

Marta, do you use any particular program?

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Joylene, I've sat beside my daughter while she records piano pieces and drum circles and such with Garage Band. I haven't used it yet, though, although I intended to try it. It should do the same thing. Maybe has different features? When I was on a PC I used Audacity, a free download. That's how I recorded all the podcasts from Tremolo. It worked fine, but I had to buy an external mike for my old Dell laptop back then. ;o)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I told my DH, and he brought in his guitar from the shop.

Marta -- look what you've started. lol

Marta Stephens said...

I use Audacity too. Works fine for what I need.

jpodonnell said...

Hi Marta,
Great post! You're right on with this technique to improve the flow of dialogue. I also use Audacity (free download) and have purchased a Zoom H2 stereo recorder. Not too expensive (about $140) and perfect if you also want to make a podcast of your book.

Marta Stephens said...

Hi JP,

In this particular chapter, the conversation kept slipping into 3-4directions--crazy! Worse, I “caught” my PI asking about things she didn’t know yet. Shock! I had read it so many times that I started to skip over words. After listening to my reading and doing some major edits, I was able to salvage enough material to use in a new chapter.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Kim Smith said...

great tips Marta!