In the Thick of Editing.

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.” ― George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four. I’ve already removed the surplus adverbs. I’m currently slogging away, removing all the ‘buts’ I can from my novel. I started off with over 550, and now I’m down to 460. The word ‘but’ is often unnecessary and not only that, it doesn’t sound musical. Too many ‘buts’ sound like an old-fashioned motorboat, chugging away, “But but but but but”. This has become even more important in these days of audiobooks. Without a person there, reading out loud, one only has the sound to go on, and the slightest extraneous noise is distracting. The next thing I will have to listen out for are sibilants; the ‘s’ sounds. Too many and it produces a ‘whispering’ and ‘whistling’ sound — “wissyswissysissyhissy” — like a snake. The only way to deal with those is to read one’s work out loud and record it, then listen to the recording, and mark the too ‘whispery’ bits on the manuscripts. Of course, one can go too far, and sometimes, these sounds can be good special effects, as when the speaker is a snake. But it is important to bear in mind that readers employed by agencies and publishers do not have endless time to make a decision. I’ve worked as a reader. It goes like this, you have two or three piles, one marked “PASS”, one marked, “REFER” and sometimes one marked with something like, “MAYBE”. The important thing to avoid is one’s manuscript going onto the “PASS” pile. Almost anything can make a reader pass on one’s work. It might be a noisy motorbike roaring by, or it might just not sound right, or there might be lots of semicolons, or ‘buts’, or mixed metaphors. 

It’s just damage limitation, that’s all. It comes down to this, “Be a good writer, or at least the best writer you can, but if you can’t be good, be careful”.

About Zoe Nightingale

I am a writer of short stories, novels, poetry and non fiction.
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