Five Reasons To Read Your Work Aloud

I enjoy the editing process.  The knowledge that you’re boiling your work down to its bare bones; that every nip and tuck improves what you have.  After a few passes, though, it becomes hard to see the words for the trees.  You lose perspective.  You know that typos, logic problems and awkward sentences still lurk on these pages, but you can no longer see them.  Your eyes have become so accustomed to these words that they’re overlooking what they need to zero right in on.

That’s when you open your toolbox and employ a different technique.  You read your work aloud, opening up a whole new world of editing potential.  Five reasons why:

1) Reading stuff aloud forces each and every word to earn its keep.  This is why you must read it yourself, rather than getting some voice-software programme to do the honours.  The very act of rallying all those small muscles and making sounds rise up out of your voice-box changes your perspective.  You’re forced to say every single word.  Suddenly, you’re not so inclined to hand free passes to superfluous, inappropriate or just plain stupid words, sentences, paragraphs or even whole sections.

2) Your eyes don’t need to pause for breath, but your mouth does.  So when you’re reading your stuff aloud, those over-long and ungainly sentences become screamingly apparent.  You physically feel those problems.  You’d taken it for granted that they were fine, because your eyes could flit right over them, but your lungs find them way less zippy.  If you’re out of breath by the end of a sentence, then it’s probably too long.  Unless of course a sentence is supposed to have that freefalling, overwhelming, stream-of-consciousness effect.  There are always exceptions.

3) You know that dialogue of yours?  It’s supposed to be stuff characters actually would and could say.  If you’re writing a script, then actors will actually have to say it.  Prose dialogue needs to flow just as naturally, without snagging in your reader’s brain – or, for that matter, the reader of the eventual audiobook.  So when you actually speak dialogue aloud, you soon realise if you’ve been kidding yourself about this stuff.  Maybe it’s too much of a mouthful.  Maybe it’s too rat-a-tat-tat staccato for anyone to actually say.  Maybe it doesn’t reflect the emotion or attitude you were gunning for.  You also get to check whether these words really do fit the character’s dialect.  Especially if you can do accents.

4) Reading your characters’ thoughts and spoken words aloud brings you closer to them.  Sure, you poured untold empathy and emotion into them on the page, but something about physically saying that stuff slides you right inside their skin.  For the duration of this read, you are them, regardless of acting ability.

5) Reading your work aloud makes it feel more real, reminding you that others will try to engage with it.  As you go, imagine you’re giving a reading in a crowded bookshop.  The pressure mounts.  How proud of this stuff do you feel?  Applying that kind of criterion to your work makes you stricter with the old red pen.  And again, you become far more conscious of how crisply and neatly these words fall off the tongue.

Just try not to read 37,000 words in one day, as I did yesterday.  Croak...

Another edit-related post from me, Ten Screw-Ups You'll Fix In Draft Two.

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3 comments:

DAVID BISHOP said...

Absolutely, reading your work aloud works. And when you've done that, print out two copies. Keep one for yourself [along with a pen] and give the other to a friend. Ask them to read your work out loud. No prep, no advance warning, just a straight sight reading.

Why?

Because we writers auto-edit as we go along [often without even noticing]. Because we persuade ourselves to overlook the little stumbles. Because stopping to mark something destroys the rhythm of you reading out loud. Get somebody else to read and you will hear every glitch, every flaw, every dodgy moment. It's terrifying, but useful.

IMHO, obviously!

Jason Arnopp said...

Thanks David - great idea.

David Scullion said...

Great advice as always!

I always read everything I write out loud. Well, not this comment. That'd just be a bit weird...

I also ensure I do read-throughs of every script with my long-suffering partner. That way I can see the if the dialogue bounces back-and-forth like it should... or just sounds stale and dull.

Reading outloud is fantastic to understand pace too. Finding yourself being a bit bored of reading out your own words is both terrifying and brilliant.

And having Final Draft or some other computer read it out for you? God no... that just sounds weird. And often accidentally hilarious.

Hope people take heed of your advice sir. Great points there.