A recent epiphany while revising: I had been focused overmuch on the way words look on the page and had begun to ignore how they sound. I found that reading aloud my entire manuscript (something the amazing Barbara O’Connor always does) really helped me catch unintended repetitions, awkward phrasings and overuse of pet words (one of these days, I will write an entire novel without using the word, “just,” not even once!).
The way words sound matters. If you are ever anywhere near LA (or any other place she might be teaching), make sure you take a class from Ann Whitford Paul. She is the queen of poetic picture books and she gives an amazing talk on using a poet’s tools in writing prose. I can’t do justice to her wisdom, but I remember her speaking at length on how certain sounds work to convey certain emotions. For example, hard sounds (found in the word “kick”) seem to convey hard emotions. Can you imagine a gentle way to say, “I’m going to kick you”? And, though I suppose in some instances the sibilance of an “s” could remind the listener of a snake’s hiss in some way, this sound is primarily soft and soothing.
In a draft I’m working on, I’d written this sentence after a little girl gets pushed down on the ground by some mean older boys:
Blood seeped around the edges of the ragged hole in her tights.
I’m thinking that the s sound in “seeped” might be too soft. Among other options, my thesaurus suggests, “oozed” and “trickled.” I’m kind of leaning toward “oozed” because it sounds better with “around,” and because — at least to me — it connotes something worse than a trickle.
Do you think about the sounds of the words you use? I’m betting you do and I’d love to see examples of revisions you made based on sounds.