Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reading Out Loud

Scott D. Parker

In my critique group, we have a usual format. We make copies of the chapter in question, pass them all out, and then read the work aloud. Finally, the members of the group make helpful suggestions and then each writer can go home and incorporate the changes. It's an excellent way to get some great feedback.

I think every author would benefit by reading their story aloud, preferably in front of someone else, but by yourself is just as good. The best reason is to improve dialogue. Sometimes, as I write dialogue, I hear it in my head. But when I hear it for real, with my ears, dialogue that sounded true in my head is revealed to be false to my ears. I found it really helpful when I wrote my historical mystery, set in 1944. More than once, upon hearing a particular passage, I realized "There is no way folks would talk that way in 1944."

The reason you should do it in front of another person(s) is to pick up on their cues, whether physical or if they interrupt you. As I read aloud to my writing group, I see them marking something on their copy at a certain place. I make a note to come back to that place and see what troubled them. When I read to my wife, she interrupts me if something bothers her. It's not always something she can explain. But, if it bothered her, it will bother a reader I don't know. So, I fix it.

Sometimes, as I'm reading aloud, my brain and mouth will actually fill in some gaps with words not on the printed page. I pay special attention to those times and actually mark my copy with the words I just spoke. If I say something that feels natural in my mouth, then I should have my characters speak that way, too.

This one may sound corny but it comes from my long association with audiobooks: change your voice. Not every author has a voice good enough to read his/her own work as an audiobook. But when it's just you and a small group or a spouse, go ahead and change your voice. Sure, men will sound funny trying to make their female characters talk but changing your voice will get you into those characters better. If you're making an effort to make, say, a Texas character sound like a Texan, give him an accent. Then, as you write the Texan's later scenes, you'll be able to 'hear' how he sounds and write truer dialogue. I do, at least. And then, after you've established that the Texan sounds a certain way, give some clues in your prose to the way the character sounds. That is, have one character comment/think about how the Texan sounds. It'll liven up the voice in a reader's head.

Lastly, if you don't have anyone to read to, record yourself. You may cringe at your own voice but you will be able to hear your story from a source that is not your own brain. It helps. I've done it.


David Cranmer said...

Agreed. I read all my stories out loud, especially dialogue passages.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My group works that way, too and I think it has its strengths and weaknesses. Its chief strength is that I myself hear what it sounds like and what parts go on too long, which parts work. But as for informed feedback, I prefer my previous group who got the story via email and really could dig into it.

RDJ said...

I'm a big believer in reading aloud, and once I've done one or two passes always do the out-loud read, usually to myself.

I also think it's worthwhile to hear other people read your stuff aloud. Something I wrote was treated to a staged reading -- with one person reading the narration and different actors doing different characters' dialogue -- and that was ... eye opening.

Dana King said...

I always read at least one draft of a story aloud, and sections if they're giving me trouble. I alter my voice, change wording as I read something different from what's on the page, and note sections I stumble over for simplification later. I used to ask member of my readers group to read it aloud so I could listen, but they wouldn't do it after a while, said they enjoyed my excerpts better when I read. They completely missed the point, and I finally gave in.