January 20, 2017
By Ekta R. Garg
Last week Ten came to me with some work on a book report. Her teacher has given the students free rein on how to present their books, and Ten decided she wanted to make her own book trailer with the iPad she and Eight now share. When we’d first talked about the book trailer project, I suggested she write her script first and revise it before jumping whole hog into video production.
“I finished writing it out,” Ten announced as she came into the kitchen while I cooked dinner. “Do you want to hear it?”
“Sure,” I said. Despite being in publishing for almost 12 years now I’ve never edited anything as someone read it aloud, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. So I put on my editor’s ears as Ten began reading and tried to take notes in my mind.
The crux of her script was really good. Ten’s teachers have praised her writing skills repeatedly, and I could hear why. She had figured out on her own just what tone of voice to use and how to tailor her script to catch the viewer’s interest by providing a few key book details without revealing any spoilers. As with any piece of written work, however, she needed to tweak a few things.
When she finished reading, she looked at me with a bright smile and asked, “What do you think?”
“It’s pretty good,” I said, “but you keep switching verb tenses.”
Her smile got a little smaller. “Huh?”
I asked her to re-read the first few sentences and pointed out what I meant by repeating the discrepancies.
“Well, I think it sounds fine,” she said, a whine edging her voice.
“I know,” I said, “but there are a couple of things you could fix.”
She huffed in consternation when I asked her to read another few sentences and told her how she could make them better.
“I don’t know how to do that,” she said, looking ready to shut off the iPad and leave the kitchen.
“You came to me for help,” I said mildly. “Do you want me to help you, or do you want me to just say it’s really good and let you go on your way?”
“I want you to say it’s really good and let me go on my way.”
Mentally I had to give her points for honesty, but I couldn’t let her get away with work that was “just okay” either. Plus, I do this for a living. Edit, that is. If I couldn’t use my skills to help my own child, who else could I help?
“I think your script is good,” I said again. “It’s just some little things that need work. Come on, we’ll do it together. I’ll help you. Read the first sentence again.”
Sentence by sentence, she re-read the lengthy paragraph. Sentence by sentence, I talked her through those pesky verb tenses. We also fixed the wording in a couple of other spots where she’d made the language unnecessarily cumbersome.
At the start of the impromptu editing session, I was sure I was going to lose her. Her reluctance to touch her work annoyed me a little—only a little—as much for the fact that she wanted to rush through her work as for the fact that it reminded me of my own reluctance at times. I’ve felt the same in editing my own stories. Most writers have, I suppose. We like to think that the words we’re putting on paper and the order they’re in are perfect, in need of no revision whatsoever, while simultaneously and paradoxically terrified that we’re making a complete and total mess of things.
If we ask for revisions, the terrified side reasons, we’ll only call attention to just how bad the writing is.
In practice, though, most of the time revisions go the same way they went with Ten that evening. After my initial reassurances that her raw material was actually pretty great and just needed some minor adjustments, her body language re-molded itself to being more welcoming of my advice. I did for her what I do for all my writers: I called attention to the areas that needed fixing without passing any judgment on the first-draft version.
As I said, I’ve never done this orally before. But it was an interesting exercise for both of us, to hear the sentences becoming smoothing and flowing better, to feel the paragraph getting stronger the longer we talked it through. In the end, I asked her to read the final product out loud one more time.
“What do you think?” I asked.
She nodded, her enthusiasm and huge smile back. “It sounds really good.”
I leaned toward her conspiratorially. “This is what I do, sweetheart, all day, every day. I’ll send you a bill.”
She smirked. “Yeah, no, I’m not going to pay it.”
Well. At least I have the satisfaction of knowing her script will be good. And maybe I can collect for this editing session sometime in the future.