How Your Words Can Awaken Zombies: Focus, Lest Your Nonfiction Turn into Horror

A while ago, I read a brilliant nonfiction book called Neurotribes by Steve Silberman. And it was epic! Every page fascinated, engrossed, and challenged me.

But halfway in, something yanked me out of the narrative:
 
“Sister Viktorine, who worked alongside Lazar before his death, used to say that it was crucial to observe the children’s behavior ‘down to their very toes.’ ”
 
Do you see the issue?

It has to do with logic and precision. Unless Sister Viktorine was not only a gifted nurse but also a proficient necromancer, it is unlikely that she worked alongside Lazar after his death. The phrase “before his death” is redundant.

You want your readers to stay hooked to your narrative. But whenever they notice something awkward, it interrupts the reading experience.

How do you avoid this?

Check Your Writing for Logic: Does It Make Sense?

The quoted sentence contains top-of-the-head writing. Most writing is top-of-the-head when we first draft it. When we self-edit afterward, we should scrutinize each word for its exact meaning.

But sometimes, we get in our own way.

Probably, Silberman got used to the phrase “before his death” and, in the self-editing stage, overlooked the redundancy. The result is an imprecise sentence that suggests that Sister Viktorine could have continued working with Lazar the Undead Psychiatrist, if only she had wanted it.
 
Now, let’s be fair: this stuff happens to the best writers. Silberman is brilliant, and his slipups are minor. I could have taken an example from any book on my shelf, but few are as illustrative.

All writers miss things—all the time. That’s why I recommend the following steps while self-editing:

  • read your prose carefully and fish out what isn’t precise and logical,
  • read your work aloud or have the computer read it to you, and
  • close your eyes to picture what you described.

.

If there’s anything off about the narrative, it will arise from the page like a zombie in a pop-up book, and you’ll wonder how you missed it.

An Extra Set of Eyes: Where Book Editors Can Help You

No matter how zealously performed, self-editing still depends on your own eyes, and those little rascals can be frightfully deceiving.

I recommend hiring an independent set of eyes—preferably attached to an editor—before publishing anything important.

If you’d like me to have a careful look at your prose, click the link below to book a free discovery call.

Enjoyed this blog?

Have a look at my other posts. And if you need help finishing your story, let’s chat.

How Your Words Can Awaken Zombies: Focus, Lest Your Nonfiction Turn into Horror

Niels Kwakernaak

Nonfiction Editor

Thanks for your interest in my experience and ideas. I write these blogs to help you overcome the hurdles of being a writer.

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