If It Sounds Like Writing, Rewrite It


This title of this post comes from a quote by famed western and crime novelist Elmore Leonard. I came across the quote some time ago and it didn’t resonate with me right away. It really hit home, however, when I began reading my first book, Frankly Speaking, as I attempted to record the audio book version. It is amazing what you uncover when you read your work aloud. I found some of the sentences to be clumsy and even difficult to read at times. I had read in another writing tips book to read your work aloud as you rewrite it. I always thought that it was a waste of time, but I am now convinced that it isn’t.

Image result for elmore leonardAnother tip from Leonard took on additional meaning as I read my book aloud. He says, “take out the parts that people skip.” As I read my book, I found one or two spots where I had some redundancy and maybe some back story items that just didn’t matter in advancing the story.

tom clancy

This didn’t just happen when reading my own book. I remember reading books by Tom Clancy. Clancy’s stories are masterful and complex, but  I often found myself skipping the minutiae of the military operations. I found that I could completely skip these sections that were sometimes 10-20 pages, and not lose any plot points within the story.

at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Manchurian Candidate," Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA 07-22-04

My wonderful editor cracked down on me when I was writing my books. I tend to insert a lot of back story because I think the readers want to know what is motivating my characters to do the things they do. I would have big chunks of information about the characters’ childhood and family life. She encouraged me to insert little pieces of this information here and there and not dump it on my readers all at once. I noticed, as I read other writers work, they used this technique as well. Stephen King is famous for giving the reader little tidbits about the character and then leaving them hanging. He might write something like, “John Doe spent the day with his children on a bright, sunny Saturday. He loved to spend the day this way. Too bad this would be his last.” Then he might end the chapter and not tell you what happened to John Doe for another couple of chapters.

As I finalized the 3rd and fourth books in the Frank Rozzani series, I think I’ve learned from my earlier work. Something that every writer should realize that completing your book with no grammatical or punctuation errors is only the beginning. Read your work aloud and take out the things that readers may skip or that are not necessary.

As I chronologically read the books of Elmore Leonard, I can see that he practiced what he preached and improved from book to book. Was his work perfect? I’m about a third of the way through his books, and no, they are not.  They do, however, show his progression as a writer over time. He wrote novels on a pace of one every 1.5 years or so. I have written five in two years while working full time.

Leonard’s slower pace is likely due to the traditional publishing route, which was virtually the only option at that time. I’m sure he had countless professional editors and help marketing his books. Independently published authors don’t have these same luxuries, but we also don’t have the time constraints. There is no reason that we cannot produce work that is both entertaining and high-quality. Reading your work aloud and skipping those things that don’t advance the story are two tricks you can use to get there.

29 thoughts on “If It Sounds Like Writing, Rewrite It

  1. If I switch POV within a chapter but it’s the same characters I do a scene break. If I switch location without seeing how the character(s) got there I do a scene break if it is closely connected to what went before. If it isn’t connected I start a new chapter. If it’s a space of time (say longer than an hour) or the next day/week etc I usually start a new chapter. If it’s different characters (usually the antagonist(s) ) I start a new chapter. My chapters can be half a page or 12 pages, or longer if that is what is called for. Some chapters will have several scene breaks others none.
    It all depends on how the story unfolds. I think we get a feel for what works as we go along. On early drafts I’ll put the date and time each scene occurs above the text if the story needs to follow a chronological order and remove the time heading later.

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  2. I can’t afford an editor any more so I’ve learned some tricks to help with self-editing; reading my work out loud is definitely one of them. I’ve now learned to keep my sentences shorter generally so readers can ‘come up for air’ as they read. 🙂

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      • You’re not alone, Don. That’s one reason I read it out loud – can’t skip over things. I find that converting the MS to a different format – e.g. ebook via Calibre – also helps me see what’s actually /there/. Of course, Stephen King’s idea of leaving it sitting in a drawer for a few months is still the best strategy…but who’s got the patience for that? lol

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  3. Pingback: Author Inspiration and Last Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

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