Editing techniques to make your prose sing
Having been a poet for 30+ years, I know the importance of each word. Every single word needs to be polished and perfect—perfect for our intended meaning, the emotions we want to evoke and the music it brings to our ears.
A great way to learn how to improve your prose is to read poetry. For help developing a daily poetry habit read Carly’s post “Write lyrically by reading poetry.”
The great news is we can apply the lessons we learn from poetry to our prose. It seems like a daunting task, doesn’t it? Every word in your 90,000-word manuscript polished and perfect?
The editing process can seem insurmountable, especially because the more we read over our work, the less we actually see or hear the words on the page. We become so used to our story that we know what’s coming next and we skim over words without realizing it.
This is one reason I adopted literary agent Donald Maass’s technique for final editing. I call it the “Maass Toss.” You can read about this helpful editing technique in my previous post, “How to take your finished manuscript to the next level.”
Walter Mosley in his book, This Year You Write Your Novel, suggests another great editing technique to make your prose as musical as possible. He says once you’ve rewritten all that you can, read your entire book aloud into a tape recorder. The entire novel? Yep.
“When you listen to yourself while reading, when you play back the words you read, the sound of the characters and their world will come to you. You will understand how you want Aunt Angie to sound. You will see what was missing from those scenes on the street….”
Recording and then listening to your book will help you not only with it’s musicality and choosing the right words, but it will allow you to see things you missed, to hear phrases that sound off or out of place. It’s a great exercise to feel the rhythm of your lines and improve the cadence of your words.
If this task seems too daunting or time consuming, you can still benefit by reading sections of your work aloud. I do it all the time when I write poetry. It helps me feel the cadence in my bones. Reading out loud helps me discover more of what my poem is really about. It can do the same for your prose. Stuck in a scene? Read it aloud. Not sure about your dialogue? Read it aloud.