The Read Through…(or the narative atom)…

The read-through is a task I always approach with a certain ambivalence. I both love and hate doing it, but I also recognise just how essential they are, both as a writer in general and when you’re working on an edit. It’s very tempting when editing to just work your way through one chapter after another polishing the text. Indeed that usually is my approach, but not until after I have done a full read through with notations. It is an attempt to become omniscient in a way, because as Stephen Kings so aptly puts it…

1724393-Stephen-King-Quote-To-write-is-human-to-edit-is-divine

It is the notations that I find to be the important thing here. In first, second and even third drafts it is far too easy to build inconstancies into your writing, both concerning how you present it and more importantly in some regards in what is written. But first and foremost you need consistency, for a very simple reason, when a reader reads your work you want them to be drawn into it. Non-fiction, fiction, contemporary fiction, sci-fi, historical drama, whatever genre you are writing in,  it doesn’t matter, the same rule applies. You want people to fully immerse themselves in the written world you have created, and if something is going to kick them out of that immersion, it will be the inconsistencies every time. This is why read-throughs and notations are important because their eye will be drawn to inconsistencies every time, and it is what separates the indie writer from the professional…

Why do I know this to be a truism you ask? Well, two reasons actually…

1/ I am an indie writer, who strives to be a professional, and thus, tries to learn from my own mistakes. I have lost track of the times I have been told by helpful readers they have spotted a typo or an inconsistency in my first novel ‘Cider lane’. There are far less in the reproofed version than there were in the original publication copy, but it still happens. So I know by experience that this is something you want to try and avoid…

2/ I have read enough indie novels to know just how many times something kicks me out of my immersion when I stumble over an inconstancy. Or to be more accurate they leap out at me in the dark alleyways of my imagination, bop me over the head and drag me back to the very reality I was trying to escape from for a while… It happens with books by big name authors too occasionally, but that’s maybe once or twice with printing errors… I have read indie novels where it has happened once or twice a chapter… I don’t blame indie authors for this, their resources are limited, and amateur proofreaders are amateurs, while cheap paid services are, as a rule, exactly what it says on the tin.

One of the more glaring mistakes I have come across in other writers indie novels are character names not being constant, A character might get briefly introduced to the reader as Maythorpe, only to become Mapplethorpe a few chapters later. In a really bad case, they may go back to Maythorpe later on for half a chapter… Nicknames are another one, one character may refer to the other as ‘Darty’. A pet name, or half an insult, from years of association, but when the same nickname gets used by another character with no connection to the first it reads strangely. So knowing who calls whom what and when is important.

It’s also important knowing when you introduced a character to the story. It’s all too easy when skip-editing (editing back and forth through your manuscript) to introduce Mr Jobs three chapters after the reader meets them for the first time briefly because originally he had a small role, and then later you expanded his role and he needed more fully introducing to the reader. Or you write the main chapter they inhabit first, then when you were editing a few chapters further back in the manuscript you put the character in a bit where he fits well, now you knew of his existence… So when your main character meets him for what, they claim, is the first time and tells you a little about them, the reader would be left thinking ‘but you were talking to him three chapters ago‘. (if all that sounds confusing, that’s because it is…)

On top of this throw in things like this:

I hate you so much’, he thought…

I hate you so much, he thought…

‘I hate you so much’, he thought…

Which one of those stylistic choices is the correct way to express your characters inner thoughts?

The answer is any of them, as far as the rules of grammar are concerned. But, and it’s a big but, it needs to be written the same way throughout your novel whenever you write someones inner thoughts. The same is true of how you use punctuation, quotations, and everything else as you go along. You need to note it down, and you need to be consistent… Or it will stand out and make your work look amateurish, and yes you can pay people to do this for you, but it’s your work at the end of the day, it’s you that has to carry the burden of how it is presented, and be happy with it.

The same is true of calling someone Mr Spleen. It can be Mr. Spleen or Mr Spleen. It doesn’t actually matter which, though it has become very uncommon to have the period after Mr in the last fifty years or so. And then there are other things, for example, Sleepmen, or Sleep-men is your prefer, or even Sleep men. These strange heavy coated, gasmask wearing thugs, come automatons, who work for the Ministry…

sleepmen

There is no rule of grammar which tells you how you write the name of these villainous beings. Neither is there any president you (or to be exact in this case me) can go to which will tell you how it should be written. They are an invention of my own, a fabrication that fits a role in my latest novel. So how I chose to write it is entirely up to me. It is only a problem if I manage to write it all three ways at various points in the novel. Then it becomes a typo of my own invention.

To press the word Sleepman only appears 36 times in a word count of over 80000, but it is written at least three different ways or was until I started this read through and used ‘find and replace‘ the most useful tool in the whole of the word editing suite…  The other examples I have used (apart from Mr Spleen who is from a different novel entirely) are all from the same manuscript. They are not alone either, the document is riddled with such inconstancy, quite apart from the inconsistencies in the plot itself.

Hence the need for read-throughs with notations, and if you wonder what I mean by notations I mean I write furious notes about everything in a fresh notebook, separate to the one I originally used for ideas when I was first working on this story. Every character, no matter how minor is written down in a long list, with the chapters they appear in. Thier names, any nicknames, any descriptions that keep occurring and anything else that seems important, who they like, who they hate, who they are lying to…

Because I am a writer, I make stuff up as I go along most of the time when I write first drafts, I scribble down notes all the time, but lots of things don’t really occur to me as important mid flow, I might, for example, write some mildly throwaway line like this:

Maythorpe was the blue-eyed boy of the service, despite having the dark brown eyes of his mother’s mixed heritage…

Its a nice bit of description that hints a level of resentment towards this character from the POV of the narrating character, and it even betrays the merest of hints of the POV’s innate low-level racism (a product of the imperialistic society he inhabits). While giving Maythorpe a little background and heritage that has shaped his own character along the way. Minor character though he may be (or was at the time) it adds a little depth. So while this seems a throwaway line is important in establishing the main characters flaws and making the world I am writing in greater than the sum of its parts. Little details matter, that ‘despite‘ in the above sentence speaks untold volumes. And little details add up, after all, everything both literary and in the real world is at the end of the day made up of lots of little things. Think of that ‘despite’ as a narrative atom (it’s too big to just be a proton…). At the end of the day, any novel is made up of a lot of narrative atoms.

If then, half remembering the first bit of the above, several chapters later I write something along the lines of:

Maythorpe’s steely blues stated back at me down the sight of his revolver…

Someone somewhere is going to notice the error or one like it. Maythorpe’s brown eyes turned blue, and not because of the Crystal Gale song… Suddenly his whole backstory is different. I have accidentally split the narrative atom and any child of the eighties who grew up in the cold war will tell you what happens when you split atoms…

giphy-downsized

So all these little details get written down while I read-through next to each character so I can check them against whats written.  As does everything else important, while each chapter gets its own notations.

All this has a lot to do with how I write, in theory, a writer could make all these notes as they go along, or before they start, but I write better when I leave myself room to run and once I have the words flowing the last thing I want to do is slow them down. So I prefer this method, it’s cumbersome, and it takes a while, but it works for me.

A lesson, I may add, I learned the hard way by making mistakes with my first novel, which is why it was reproof four months after I first published it to fix of the narrative A-bombs and other inconsistency that slipped past the naive self when I first put it out there… Both my current in print novels are free from narrative A-Bombs and have consistent style choices throughout (hopefully). But that said I do know of a couple that people have helpfully pointed out to me in the last year, luckily they are very minor ones that most people would never spot, but it still bugs me they exist at all…

There is a reason a large publishing house takes six months or more to publish a book from receiving the authors final draft. As an Indie writer, I can not compete with their resorces, and it’s a damn sight harder to spot these things yourself as you go word blind after a while reading your own work…

The read through, and copious notation is my solution, it’s also the next stage in finishing ‘A Spider in the Eye’. It’s gonna take a while, defusing bombs always does…

This entry was posted in books, cider lane, fiction, nanowrimo, novels, Passing Place, publication, quotes, rant, self-publishing, writes, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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