by Robert Lopresti
Those of you who
turn on your computer with trembling hands every Wednesday morning, eagerly
awaiting my latest contribution to civilization, will no doubt recall
that last week I was rushing to get a piece of fiction into shipshape
before a deadline.
Yesterday I decided it was just about
perfect, and that it was almost time for me to kiss it goodbye and set
it on its merry way. But first came the final test I give every story:
reading it out loud. It is amazing how often the ear will catch what
completely glides past the eye. This time I decided, on a whim, to
keep track of how many corrections I made.
Big mistake. Would you believe I made 94 changes in my near-perfect manuscript?
to be fair, only a few of them could be called mistakes. Instead they
were exactly the type of infelicities the oral reading is intended to
catch. For example, the same word showing up three times in a
paragraph. Maybe that's a good opportunity to bring in a synonym. Not errors, just improvements.
But let's talk about the genuine boo-boos, because they amazed me.
* In my last draft I added a sentence about "the awful Iowa waters." Waters? I thought I had written "winters."
I wrote "the colors would have magnificent." I swear, I noted the
missing word "been" at least five times and somehow forgot to add it
* When my character thinks someone is reaching for his
money, "his hands folded reflexively over it." Which would be fine, but what
I ACTUALLY wrote was "folded reflectively..." Maybe he had mirrors on
What drives me nuts about that last one is that I
know for a fact that I wrote it in the first draft, which means it slid
past me in at least twenty rereads. Almost as bad was one I caught a
few drafts ago, in which the same character was complaisant about a
compliment. No, dammit. He was complacent.
I think I need to reread Adrian Room's Dictionary of Confusable Words.
we won't even discuss the afternoon that shifted from rainy to sunny in
the course of one page without anyone commenting on it. Sigh...
so depressed I didn't have the gumption to print the story out for one
more read. But I will. Sisyphus and I have our stones to roll. Watch out