Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Revisions, Revisions....

by Matt Lynn

I finished the first draft of ‘Ice Force’ last week, so now all I have to do is revise the manuscript before I hand it in to Headline. I enjoy revisions. As I’ve pointed out before on this blog, I plan my plots in a lot of detail before I start writing the book, so the difference between the first and second draft is not going to include any very radical re-working of the storyline.

Instead, it is all about the prose. I write a book straight through. I don’t go back and re-read anything until the whole book is done. So when I am revising, there is a fair amount of tinkering around to be done. But it is mainly about tuning up sentences, and punching up dialogue. That is all fun. It’s probably the bit of the job I enjoy the most.

But I was struck by a post on Roy Greenslade’s blog this week about how Rudyard Kipling revised his work.

"Take well-ground Indian ink as much as suffices and a camel hairbrush proportionate to the intersperse of your lines,” Kipling advised.

In an auspicious hour, read your final draft and consider faithfully every paragraph, sentence and word, blacking out where requisite.

Let it lie by to drain as long as possible. At the end of that time, re-read and you should find that it will bear a second shortening. Finally, read it aloud alone and at leisure.

May be a shade more brushwork will then indicate or impose itself. If not, praise Allah, and let it go and when thou hast done, repent not."

Kipling, as Greenslade points out, was talking about his newspaper pieces in India. But much the same advice applies to a book as well. Obviously we can skip the bit about the Indian ink. Apart from that, it is good stuff. Always read it carefully, put it aside for a while, then read it again. And once it is done, stop worrying about it.

The one thing I don’t do is read it aloud. But I think it might be a good idea. Words and sentences have a different flow when read out loud, and they might well be improved. I might try that this time around.


  1. By Peter Stuart Smith

    I thoroughly endorse Matt's comments here. The only thing I would add is that I've always found reading the manuscript aloud is incredibly valuable. I don't know why it is, but the mere act of reading a piece of prose somehow tunes your subconscious into the work, and – at least in my case – I find that I pick up repetitions of words or phrases, or other errors, that simply staring at the words on the screen will not detect.
    The other slightly strange aspect of this is that I detect more errors if I print the manuscript and then read it off the page, than if I read it from the screen of the laptop.
    I've also tried using one of these programs that will read a piece of text at you, but I've found that the stilted and definitely American voice that emerges from the speakers acts as a barrier. I find myself listening to the voice instead of listening to the words, and I don't get anything like the same benefit from the exercise.

  2. I read tricky passages aloud, under my breath, to hear how the words flow. That way I can easily identify words that don't work. Putting the problems right isn't always quite so easy! I'm very impressed with the success of your planning, Matt. Like a military operation! My outlines never quite work out as I plan them.

  3. Interesting. I'm certainly going to try rreading it aloud. If its good enough for Kipling and Peter, it's good enough for me.

  4. I print out everything. I can't see the errors while staring at the screen. I believe it's because I'm so used to skimming on the internet. I can't undo this bad habit.