A simple story that is, for the most part, beautifully told. I felt a genuine sadness for the characters, even the ones that were only there for a few pages. The sense of place is excellent and not overdone; there’s plenty left to the imagination, and a surprising amount of drama for what is, essentially, a very long stroll. The author has a light touch, but the occasional overcooked metaphor interrupted the flow of the story (I don’t think anyone’s breath should ‘wallop’ the air), and that’s my only complaint.I think I was half way through before I put the book down for a day — just so Harold’s journey would last a little bit longer.
By the time I’ve read through an ongoing book project for the fourth time, something odd starts happening with my brain: I stop reading and start remembering. Yes, I’m still going through the story, and I’m still enjoying it (I’m one of those writers who loves reading his own stuff), but rather than going through every single word, what I’m actually doing is reading the story, but remembering the words. The problem with this is that while the story is sound, a lot of niggling errors in punctuation and grammar might slip through. Over the years, I’ve come up with a few techniques to fix this. (Maybe ‘come up with’ isn’t the right phrase, as I’m sure a whole load of writers have been doing this long before me).
Make sure you’re writing a story that interests you. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found really poor stories showing up on the Kindle bookstore, looking as though they haven’t even seen a spellchecker. Why anyone would put out a piece of work like this unless they didn’t care for it? Before a book is right, the author will have read it, cover to cover, at least four times I reckon. Can you imagine doing that with a piece of work you don’t enjoy?
Proof-read on paper, not on the screen. Reading from a screen, especially an upright one, is very tiring. Your concentration will start to wane within about a half an hour. Yes, I know it’s not very green, but proof-reading is best done from paper. Having said that, I’ve found e-Ink is just as good. If you have Nook or a Kindle then try putting your book on to that and reading it from there.
Read out loud. Yes, while you’re reading, speak each word clearly and with meaning, as if you’re practising a play. Until you try it you will not believe how many mistakes you’ll pick out. Not just the spelling, but those frequent occasions when you write ‘there’ when you really meant ‘their’. People often asks me why my stories read like three-hundred-page poems, and my usual answer is that I’m enormously talented. Well, the truth is I read out loud. It gives me a better sense of flow, structure, and timing. Oh, and for a reading session of about two hours, I usually need about half a litre of water and a slice of cheesecake.
Employ the services of a good copy editor. This is really really important. Once you’ve done your final read-through, send your piece to a copy editor for a final final read-through. And when you get it back, leave it sitting on the coffee table for a week before running a final final final read-through. Remember that you don’t have to agree with every markup your editor makes, but it is important to be aware of every potential mistake.
The Guardian is running a blog entry to find the best independently-published science fiction story. I’m not sure how they’re going to read through every single entry, but at the very least it’s a good way to get your name in front of your peers. Here’s the link, and don’t forget to check your spelling before you hit the sumbit button 🙂