Monday, October 26, 2009

Editing With Ghosts

by Joan

I didn’t start out thinking I’d write ghost stories. But one day a ghost showed up in a manuscript I was writing and helped my protagonist deal with some buried family secrets. She was based on my Aunt Florence who died when I was twelve, a rotund redhead who loved to float in the pool, inhale coffee and cigarettes, and belly laugh. I like the idea of spirits and souls so connected to people or places that they just can’t leave. Of ancestors who stay with us long after they die. (Kim agrees)

Last year I wrote a blog post about a mysterious ghost writer who communicated with me via my computer. Turned out it wasn’t a ghost at all, just my son’s runaway Bluetooth mouse, making itself at home on my screen. Technology.

I imagine Aunt Florence, a product of the Depression, wouldn’t quite know what to make of our technological advances. I’ve been accused of being a Luddite, despite using Word and Excel for over twenty years, regularly posting to two blog sites, not so regularly posting on Facebook, and writing three manuscripts and the bones of two others on my laptop. To be honest, though, I stick to the functions I know and don’t go searching for new tools.

But I do keep an eye out for new ghosts. And I’ve just encountered another one, though this one’s no Luddite. In fact, this one does make herself at home in my computer. She's Rachel, a British ghost I downloaded to my Mac.

I had no idea my computer had a function for text-to-voice, probably has had for many years. Julie turned me on to this amazing concept, after reading about it on QueryTracker. But I didn’t really like the robotic voice my Mac offered and found a program called GhostReader. (I’m sure there are others, but I’m partial to this one’s name.) There are many languages to choose from, not just British English. Just open your document in GhostReader and it will READ YOUR NOVEL ALOUD TO YOU.

Aside from the thrill of hearing your manuscript read aloud, this is a great self-editing tool. After many revisions, it’s easy to find yourself skimming sentences, paragraphs, even whole pages after a while. Sentences you’ve read over and over sound good because they are familiar. But are they really good? Are they clean, tightly written? Do they convey your intent? The program has a pause/play/rewind function so when you hear odd phrasing or a misplaced word, you can stop and jot down the problem. You can make changes and copy it over to Word, even download it to your iPod, I’m told, though I haven’t tried yet. GhostReader is an amazing tool for any writer!

I’ve had a number critiquers and beta readers on the ghost story I’m shopping to agents. Last month, I put it on hold while I did some brutal revisions, added some new twists, changed my working title and now I'm getting it ready for a new beta reader. Rachel just read the first five chapters to me. I felt as though I was listening to an audio book I’d purchased. I’m excited about it all over again.

Little by little, I’m leaving my Luddite ways behind. And meeting new ghosts.

(If anyone knows of a similar program for PC users, I'm sure our readers would be interested.)


  1. That sounds like a lot of fun, I'm going to try it!

    My secret weapon to avoid the 'glaze-over' effect is to use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It finds those overused and repeated words that I always miss :-)

  2. Thanks for stopping by Janine. I'm not familiar with AutoCrit--I'll check it out.

  3. Wow, Joan, GhostReader sounds like an incredible tool for every writer. Will be on the lookout for a similar PC program.


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