In the days before Hurricane Sandy paid her violent visit last year, I sat down to perform a "final" read-through of my manuscript, prior to ensuring that it arrived safely in the hands of my Kickstarter supporters in time for Christmas. My husband suggested reading the whole thing aloud to him, and I happily agreed.
As I embarked on a more sonic journey through the writing -- after so long working with it on the page, or visually -- I found there was a plethora of issues to be grappled with! What began as a final pass very quickly became a detailed, agonizing, and deeply rewarding trek through my manuscript.
So what did I discover?
1. The "music" needed arranging: the rhythm, tonal quality, the where and when of repetition, how motifs were woven through (or not!) ... in placing the story in space and breath, the language moved for me in new ways, and this demanded a new form of editing/revision. I have Synesthesia (I might blog some other time on that!) so art (especially sound and language) for me tends to be fully dimensional. Hence as I read, the language had textures and colors, and that all had to be masterfully blended. As I read aloud, these elements at times clashed and bled into each other, often lacking artistic precision. The amazing thing was that I could not "see" or "hear" these jarring moments until the novel was spoken.
2. The character who mysteriously vanished after 30 pages. I am a firm believer in the idea that a story reveals itself to you, and so this sudden disappearance -- one that had been thus far remained undetected by two editors and an agent (let alone the author!) -- took hold, and showed me that there was another aspect of my story that now needed to be discovered, and told. In doing so, it meant I had to face a wound I realized I had been protecting my character from. I had no choice but to dive in and feel the pain for her, then write her through it. Ouch. Tears over that one. And again, until spoken, this aspect was hidden.
3. Developing the motivation for the journey. Three quarters of the way through, I looked at my dedicated listener, and we both knew that we no longer believed the major decision the protagonist had made to go on her solo journey. We believed her emotion, but not that her reason. So again it meant delving back into the story, overturning ideas like stones and searching for things I had left behind. I found them, and then rewrote major sections, as well as adding new ones. This meant layering my character with more pain, which was hard, but she had to face her world and feel the fulness of it. And for her to do that successfully, I of course needed to take her there myself.
3. Adjusting punctuation. Finding the right moments for breath, and making them relatable across two different writing cultures - Australia and the USA have different ideas and usages of commas, and to find a balance between them was like needing to utilize a form of bilingualism. It compelled me to reach deeply into each sentence and be true to the breath and expression in it, regardless of the pulls between two ways of punctuating. And understanding that on each continent would be a person unhappy at some point, but ... c'est la vie.
So, Hurricane Sandy hit, and for those of us in Jersey (as elsewhere), this was a hard time. Then there was another house move, brought on by health concerns in the place we had rented that were causing illness and inability to work. And the read-aloud continued. It continued in the respite of staying in an isolated Maine farmhouse while Christmas snow thickened the ground and iced the edge of the sea. It continued through unpacking boxes and hosting visitors, and times where I have had to feel through the trauma my characters have needed to embody.
The Edit is nearly finished -- way past my Christmas deadline, but we're on track for a March 1 release. And considering March 2 is the birthday of the one who suggested I start this whole read-aloud in the first place, it seems an auspicious date!
I never imagined that reading aloud would take me the places it has, but I would now never trek my stories any other way. But next time I will bring a first aid kit, a warm sleeping bag, and the means by which to light fires to ease the darkness and cold.