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The Art of Story Writing : CHAPTER XX Revising Manuscripts

by Nathaniel C. Fowler, JR   

CHAPTER XX Revising Manuscripts

NO author or writer, however conversant with literature he may be, or trained in manuscript reading or editing, even though he may be an expert in English composition, can read or revise his own manuscript, with the certainty of obtaining a clean or perfect result.

It has been said, and with some degree of truth, that the better the writer, the poorer he may be as a manuscript and proof-reader of his own work, because he is very likely to carry his written words in his mind as well as to have them upon paper; and he cannot, therefore, read his manuscript as intently, or as critically, as may one who has no interest in it.

So far as I know, no manuscript of any length has ever been free from grammatical and other errors, and some of these mistakes will be carried to the printed page, even though the manuscript and proofs have passed through several hands.

Complete accuracy is impossible, but fairly clean manuscripts may be had, if the writer employs the services of one competent to read them.

In every city there are several professional manuscript readers. If there are none nearby, the author should send his manuscript, by mail or express, to some good manuscript reader, and the result will be practically the same as if he came in personal contact with him.

Editors of newspapers, of other periodicals, and of publishing houses will gladly give you the name and address of several responsible readers, who will not overcharge for the work.

The reader is warned against many of the advertised "readers" or "institutions," which claim to be able to revise manuscripts and to make them salable.

I have spoken of these "readers" in a chapter entitled "Literary Bureaus."

A good manuscript or proof-reader understands the English language and is expert at composition and punctuation, and at locating inconsistencies. Many of the best manuscript readers are not college graduates, but have served apprenticeship in newspaper offices as proofreaders. Mere education itself does not make one proficient in this art, but no one can succeed in it without education.

Manuscript reading may be divided into two classifications:

First, correction, so far as punctuation, spelling, paragraphing, and grammar are concerned.

Secondly, the marking or questioning of inconsistencies, an analysis of plot and characters, and suggestions for improvement.

The fees charged by good manuscript readers are not excessive. A fair market rate for this work is fifty cents for the first two or three thousand words, and from fifteen to twenty-five cents for each thousand words up to ten or twelve thousand; and from a dollar and a half to two and a half dollars for each ten thousand words in excess of ten or twelve thousand.

If the reader is called upon to locate inconsistencies, with or without correcting them, and to advise the author as to plot and characters, he may receive double the rates quoted.

The cost of typewriting a manuscript, and all manuscripts should be corrected before the final copy is made, is four or five cents per hundred words, with one or two cents per page additional if carbon copies are furnished.

I would advise all authors to have carbon copies made of their manuscripts. Unless the author is well-to-do, I would suggest that he copy his own manuscript, purchasing or leasing a typewriter for the purpose. Standard typewriters sell from seventy-five to one hundred dollars, but there are a number of old makes of these standard machines which do good work, and which can be purchased as low as twenty-five dollars. Several typewriter companies will sell typewriters on installments, and they may be rented as low as five dollars for three months, although five dollars a month is the regular price.

Distance from a typewriter office presents no obstacle. They can be sent by express or freight. Every author, however, should have a typewriter of his own. I would advise against the use of what is known as Elite type, as the regular size known as Pica type is preferable.

Never use more than one color of ink in a manuscript, as it may confuse the reader and compositor.

I would advise every author to obtain the services of a good manuscript or proof-reader, otherwise his manuscript is liable to contain errors, and often inexcusable ones. He may transpose the characters and improperly locate the actions and situations.

If one will study books and articles carefully, he will find that occasionally, because of the lack of proper reading and revising, the author has called some of his characters by several names, has mis-located the places, has repeated and contradicted himself. Only by revision, and this to be done by an outsider, can the author hope to produce a fairly correct manuscript.

I have referred to these matters in other chapters.