Guest Post

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Guest Jim Jackson delves into the Author's Toolbox

cj Sez:  Lyrical Pens is honored to have Jim Jackson as the guest blogger today. Jim is president of the 600+ member Guppy organization, a chapter of the international Sisters in Crime writers group. (Disclaimer: I’m a rabid fan and avid-lurking member of both groups.) Today Jim offers up some neat ideas on how to polish a manuscript to perfection.

Author’s Toolbox: The Auditory Read Through

Every author develops a toolkit containing writing skills and techniques, preferred software and hardware, and proven processes to develop a polished manuscript. I’d like to suggest authors add the Auditory Read Through to their stockpile of available tools.

If you are like most modern authors, you compose your first draft using a word-processing program, which means you first see your words on a screen. You may rewrite your manuscript using a screen to display your text, or you may print out a copy of your manuscript, make handwritten corrections and then convert those back to an electronic form.

Many authors have learned that they find different problems when they view their manuscript on the screen compared to what they find when using a hard copy. I suggest that you will also discover different issues when you read your manuscript out loud.

Even if on previous read-throughs you silently sounded things out in your head, you did not fully utilize your sense of hearing. Before the written word, stories were spoken, and you should listen to yours to discover a few last issues you may have missed.

My approach to the Auditory Read Through
I print out the manuscript single-spaced applying the same font, type size, lines per page and page size as the publisher will use. As I read, I’ll see, for example, a long paragraph that needs splitting or dialogue that runs unbroken for two pages. [I am not worrying about exact layout, orphan lines, where words break on a line, or anything like that.] 
What am I listening for? Anything that doesn’t sound right on a sentence-by-sentence basis, as well as considering a paragraph or page as a whole. Whenever I stumble or trip over a word, there is a good chance I need to rewrite something. This gives me the opportunity to straighten convoluted sentences and exchange flabby diction with precise wording. Often on the read-through I'll discover I used a word several times
within a short span. I never saw the multiple uses on screen or page, but my ear picks it up.

I pay particular attention to adverbs: are they covering for a flabby verb? Make sure every adverb is necessary. As an example, consider the line, “She quickly walked to the sidewalk.” With the multitude of verbs available to describe exactly how she moved to the sidewalk, this sentence employs a lazy approximation for what the reader should visualize as they read.

Where I used multiple adjectives, can I replace them with one perfect descriptor?
Have I noun-ized verbs (xxxxx-ness) or verbed nouns (xxxxx-ize).
Are my verbs ending with “ing” appropriate?
Have I fallen into a repetitive pattern? Do too many sentences share the same form? Are sentences all the same length?

You can do as I do, printing out the manuscript and reading it aloud to yourself, or you can use software that reads the words to you. I’ve tried both and they both work well. Using software has the added advantage that you use only your ears, since you aren’t the one reading. Plus, it can be entertaining when the software butchers a word it doesn’t know.

Some people record themselves reading their manuscript out loud. While they are reading, they muzzle the internal editor. Once they start the playback, they are truly listening (since they are not also reading). I haven’t used this technique, but it is intriguing, although it seems like extra work—but folks swear by it, and I may try it sometime.

I find the best time in my manuscript creation process for the Auditory Read Through is once I think the manuscript is ready for a final nit check. You may want to wait until you believe you have polished the manuscript to perfection. Others may find it’s useful much earlier in their process.

If you’ve tried the technique, how did you think it worked for you? If you haven’t performed an Auditory Read Through, do you think you might?

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. ANT FARM, BAD POLICY, CABIN FEVER, and DOUBTFUL RELATIONS. Jim also published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, ONE TRICK AT A TIME: How to start winning at bridge, as well as numerous short stories and essays. He is the president of the 600-member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. He splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the open spaces of Georgia’s Lowcountry.

You can find more information about Jim (including social media links) and his writing (including purchase links) at his website

cj Sez: I loved this post, Jim. It’s spot-on for how to uncover the weaknesses—and strengths—in manuscripts. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by…and congrats to the whole Guppy group on their anthology, Fish or Cut Bait, A Guppy Anthology, being nominated by Killer Nashville for a 2016 Silver Falchion Award. Lots of good stories in there (readers can check it out on Amazon.) 

Jim's latest book, Doubtful Relations, is hot off the presses, having launched yesterday!  Be sure to 
check it out as well.

Okay, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same, but please take a moment to share your thoughts or questions in the comments below.  

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo
Amazon Central Author Page:


  1. cj -- Thanks for having me today. Fish or Cut Bait did not end up winning the Silver Falchion, but we're thrilled to have it nominated. One of the stories from that anthology was chosen for the annual Best American Mystery Short Stories 2016 series editor Otto Penzler, which is high praise.

    1. I agree, Jim, the Silver Falchion nomination is awesome and add to that a Best American Mystery Short Story to boot! Spectacular. LP is happy you stopped by, and you're welcome here anytime. Best wishes for great sales and 5-star reviews for DOUBTFUL RELATIONS.

  2. I've used some aspects of the "auditory read through", but hadn't thought of the visual checks by employing single spacing and the same font/page size that a publisher would use. Great ideas!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Becky. I've found that particular aspect adds a bit of excitement into the process.

  3. Yes,reading your work out loud is wonderful advice, Jim. I've done it some of the time but not always. Now, however, I'll be more assiduous. Thanks.

    1. Wonderful to hear other people have also had good experiences with hearing their work to improve it.

  4. Great post! Listening to a manuscript can reveal a lot of flaws. It's usually worth the effort.


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