Reading aloud

Revision goes faster if you know what you need to revise, and you can find out by reading your draft aloud. Simply print a copy and read it aloud with a pencil in your hand.

By “aloud,” I do not mean under your breath. You want your words leaving your mouth and entering your ear, because you’re recreating the experience of the readers as your voice rings inside their heads. When you read silently, you bounce along the phrases, not individual words. When we read aloud, we have to pronounce every word. And many problems in clarity and rhythm result from little words colliding with big ones.

Make a tic in the margin as you read aloud beside anything that bumps you. Don’t stop to fix it. Bumps include running out of breath, sounds clashing in your mouth, misspelled words, grammar and usage lapses, sentences that don’t make sense, missing stuff, rough phrasing, etc. Also put a tic beside things you want to check or phrase better. When you finish reading, the tics in the margin will show you everything you need to change.

Reading aloud also gives you some idea of your readers’ experience to come. They don’t read aloud, of course, but you’re sampling how your own voice will sound in their heads. You would tic the margin for anything that doesn’t sound like you.

Remember that this induced voice is an artifact, created by the devices you use consistently. You’ll notice breakdowns in the artifice as you read aloud, and you can repair them. This constant tuning makes your writing voice consistent.

Here’s an example. Two paragraphs back, I typed: “but you’re approximating how your own voice will sound in their heads.” “Approximating” is a fine word and accurate, but it’s a higher level of diction than my blog voice normally uses. I read aloud as I type, so I bumped on that word before I finished the sentence. I tried several rephrasings: “edging up to,” “closing in on,” “testing,” and finally “sampling.” I chose “sampling” because of its associations with sound and music. Then I thought of “tasting,” a nice metaphor, but maybe too tricky.

Reading aloud will also allow you to experience the readers’ pace and expectation of length. You’re droning along and find yourself thinking, “Hmmm, this seems long.” It feels long to you because it is.

[Anybody got an anecdote of discovering something while reading aloud?]

Published in: on May 28, 2009 at 9:54 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This excellent advice, which I learned the hard way when I was reading my first self-published novel on a radio show. And I had had a good copy editor!

    When you hear what you’ve written, it doesn’t always sound the way you wrote it.

    Good advice.

  2. That’s why I read aloud as I type. Or maybe I dictate to the screen. If it doesn’t sound the way you wrote it, that’s a signal that something’s wrong. It also argues for reading it into a tape recorder (You remember tape recorders, don’t you, Tom?) and listening intently, something I learned from radio reporters.

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