Monday, January 16, 2012

Eliminating Echoes in Our Writing

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

P4020070I recently got my copyedited manuscript back for the first Southern quilting mystery, which is releasing in June.

I was pleased with the lack of mark-ups on the manuscript. It was probably the cleanest doc I’ve ever gotten back.

Except for one major thing.

I had the most echoes I’d ever seen. Actually, it was an embarrassing number of echoes.

Editors (at least mine at Penguin), refer to repeated words as echoes. Echoes haven’t usually been an issue for me. And this manuscript was full of them.

I think it might be due to the number of times I picked up and put down the document while writing it. I had a full schedule at the time and wrote in very small chunks of time. That approach worked well, in terms of getting the book written. But, since I make a point of not reading what I wrote the previous day, this meant that sometimes I reused words that I’d just written (that I guess were fresh in my mind from the day before.)

An example from the first page of my manuscript: I reference a wild looking woman at the protagonist’s front door. Five lines later: I describe the woman’s wildly colored, mismatched clothes.

Some other repeated words: disastrous and disaster (4 lines apart), quickly (4 lines apart), chilled and chill (10 lines apart), honestly (2 lines apart), normally (2 lines apart), running late and run by (in the same line)….yes, the list goes on!

Amazingly, neither my agent nor my senior editor noticed the echoes in a read-though…but they were reading for content in those passes. Which just goes to show that copyeditors are worth their salt—and that we all can miss echoes unless we’re making special passes for them.

On the upside—they’re extremely easy to fix. I’d corrected the entire manuscript and returned it to my editor in just about 30 minutes. But I felt sorry for the poor copyeditor.

I’ve caught my own echoes before—that’s why I’ve never had a book returned to me with so many. These are the ways I’ve found them (and I use the same method to locate other errors):

Read aloud: You can either read your book aloud to yourself or load the manuscript on your e-reader and have the device read aloud to you.

Read in a different font: This drives me nuts after a while, but if I only plan on editing a chapter, I’ll put the one chapter in a different font. It makes the words look different and gives me a little distance from the document.

Use beta readers: Sometimes my betas will find these types of errors.

Make a special pass: This is my plan for my next manuscript. I’m going to make a special pass through the document, looking especially for echoes.

How do you find errors like echoes in your drafts?