Thursday, May 16, 2013

Faulkner-Wisdom: Reading Your Novel Out Loud for Better Results



After last year when two of my novels made the finals for William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition and a third was a short-list finalist, I decided to outdo myself and really push these novels to see if this year I can finally breakthrough, not just with a win, but gaining the interest of both an agent and a publisher, preferably in a two-book deal.  This is my stated intention, my goal for 2013. 

In other words, I’m going for it.  I plotted this the moment I returned from the US last August following my father’s funeral.  Having failed to publish a novel before he passed away and tired of making excuses or glancing away whenever someone asks about my writing or my “job”, I decided enough is enough.

What I love about novel contests are their deadlines.  It gives me something to shoot for.  This time around, I didn’t just want a quick run through each novel as I’ve often done in the past for one novel or another, sometimes three novels back to back . . . . No, this time I gave myself plenty of time, nearly eight months.  I started with A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit, a thoroughly revamped novel in 2012, though I went too far in changing it to third person, which I did for last year’s contest.  Although it made the finals, it wasn’t working as effectively as I knew it could.  I wanted to change it back to first person, but using past tense instead (previously it was in the present tense as I mentioned in an earlier blog, inspired by rereading The Great Gatsby).  I had actually started to revise the novel before the 2012 results, before my father passed away.

Often I read my novels out loud inside my own head, but I now and then I’d catch myself on automatic, glossing over sections.  This time around I vowed to read the novel out loud, really out loud, wanting to hear the cadence of each word, all 88,000 of them.  Not one time, but read each chapter aloud three times, editing as I go along.  It was a painfully slow process and required drinking a ton of water (and a lot of toilet breaks), but I was determined to make this novel the best that I could make it.  I found myself making lots of changes and catching stuff that didn’t get caught in previous edits.  Then I read the novel aloud once more in January, in February, and again in April (that’s six times!) before sending it to Faulkner-Wisdom.

Next up was An Unexpected Gift from a Growling Fool, which was a short-list finalist for Faulkner-Wisdom in 2009 under a different title.  Outraged by the first graders being shot in the Newtown school shooting just before Christmas, I was determined that this novel, which also involves a shooting by a child, needed to be in the on-going and future dialogues about guns and children, so I wanted to revamp it.  I changed the title, changed the name of the town, introduced a new opening including an anecdote as to how the town got its name, Growling.  Again, deter­mined to raise the writing to a higher level, I read out loud each chapter three times, all 103,000 words.  I then read it out loud again twice more in February (separated by two weeks), and again in April.

In March, I was happy that the April 1st deadline for the Faulkner-Wisdom contest got pushed back to May 1st (and again to May 15th), so I could wrap up the rewrite of first 50 pages of The Girl in the Bathtub for their the novel-in-progress category, a 2012 finalist; The Act of Theft, my 12,300 word novella entry; and move onto my third full novel The Lonely Affair (previously titled The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady), short-list finalist 2012 & 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom and a quarter-finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  Now I had the time to do the same treatment of reading each chapter out loud three times (98,550 words), then again in April and twice more in May, and sending it off with my blessing last night.
           
So right now I’m feeling pretty tired, but pretty good, too, knowing that I gave the three novels—all five entries—their best shot.  I’m also pretty excited about picking up where I left off with The Girl in the Bathtub, (around the 200-page mark) with one hundred and fifty pages of notes to guide the way.  If I can complete this by using the same discipline that I’ve been using since I got back from my father’s funeral (and reading it out loud, too), then 2013 will be a pivotal year for me and bear fruits for years to come.  And if I can sell one of those novels this year, even better! 

As they say talent and persistence always win out (talent, without persistence, gets you nowhere) and reading your work out loud is the perfect way to take your writing to a higher level (as long as you do the hard work and make those corrections!) even for those expat writers based in the far-flung corners of the world, like me here in Borneo.

*Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award-Six lessons 

**Two novels and one novella are short list finalist for 2013 Faulkner-Wisdom, so five books into two years, including the Girl in the Bathtub, my Gift from the Past.  In finals for novella 2014.

**Link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

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