One of the first things I do when I’ve completed a chapter or three is to put them to one side for a day or two so that new plot ideas have a chance to pop up and fill out or otherwise improve the story. This pause allows me to make whatever small or large changes inspiration demands.
Then I’ll leave the chapters alone for a second time. When I come back to them I read them aloud, at my normal reading speed. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to spot the tiny mistakes, the typos, or the missed or incorrect punctuation; the purpose is to let my subconscious feel the flow of the words.
By reading it this way I discover straight away where the words I’ve used might make a reader stumble. If I can’t read a sentence smoothly and easily, if my tongue falls over the words, or I become confused and lose track of the meaning of the sentence, then that’s a clear sign that I must sort it out. Perhaps I’ve made it too archaic or formal, or conversely it’s too colloquial for the characters and the setting. Or it’s simply clumsy, and the words or phrases need to be moved about to make it flow more naturally.
When I joined the Whitehaven Writers and for the first time in my life was writing every week, I was amazed at the way my tongue would instinctively use a word which wasn’t on the page, but was a much better fit than my original. It pulled it out of the store-room of all the books I’ve read and absorbed over the last sixty years. Every time this happened I removed the word my mind had ignored, and put in the one I’d said instead, and invariably the sentence was improved.
I’m a fiddler and niggler, and very much a perfectionist, so I’m likely to repeat this exercise when I’ve done the proof-reading’s fine-tuning. Although it may seem a chore, I consider it’s worth it, since it usually throws up one or two more rocky rapids in the smooth flow of the story, and gives me a second chance to remove the offending boulders. However, there comes a moment when I have to stop and let it alone – sometimes less is more, and continued niggling may make it stilted – as with so much of life the free flow must be balanced with the careful construct.
We all have different personalities, and what suits one will be anathema to another, but if you’re intuitive (with a touch of the pedant) then you may find this useful. All I can say is, it works for me. If it suits you, use it; if not, ignore it with a clear conscience.