Thursday, 21 April 2011

R is for Reading Writing Out Loud

You should read your work aloud. Definitely. When you’re alone, when you can’t be overheard, speak the whole thing. Don't mumble or whisper it under your breath. As though you were reading it to someone, which you are (yourself). It will help. It is a little tedious, maybe even excruciating. It will help. 

But there are some drawbacks you need to be aware of.


When you read the text to yourself you will be able to spot basic errors. Typos and missed punctuation. Sentences that don’t make sense or you forgot to finish. Sometime you will have written a line one way, then decided on another way, and somehow managed to leave them both on the page. Just the way it sounds and the feel of the words in your mouth will tell you when something isn’t quite right.

However, when you write, you think of what you mean, then you choose the words that convey the meaning.
Meaning —> Words

When a reader reads they take the words in first, then extrapolate the meaning.
Words —> Meaning

When a writer reads his own work, this happens:
Meaning —> Words —> Meaning

The writer already knows what he meant so he doesn’t get the experience the reader does. When it comes to reading your own work it is very easy to attach meaning that you intended the writing to have, but never actually put on the page. This is especially true of dialogue.

When you read out your own dialogue you know what the character means. You naturally say it in that intonation and attitude. Even if the punctuation isn’t there or the implication is ambiguous, you will say it how it is meant to be said.  The reader does not have that advantage and will either be unsure what the character means, make a lucky guess, or assume the wrong thing.

You have to be careful with dialogue. Don't rush through it assuming your intent is obvious. It isn't.

The way to fix this is either to rely on critique from a third party, they will spot the probelm instantly. Or by being aware of this possibility and looking at dialogue not only how you intend it, but how it might be interpreted. It’s not that hard to do if like me you go over the same text over and over until you can see all its additional meanings, some of which you might even want to keep.

29 comments:

Jingle said...

awesome idea,
reading aloud is a cool way to feel the written words.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Reading out loud certainly calls attention to sucky dialogue!

Margo Berendsen said...

Really good point about meaning -> words -> meaning when you are reading out loud. I remember someone suggested reading your pages out loud and out of order, to kind of shake your authorly expectations :)

Last week you said you'd be interested in more about my macro-tension and micro-tension idea, re: literary. Ze post iz up!

Charmaine Clancy said...

I let my Kindle read my book aloud too, the monotone voice is great for spotting flaws in the writing because you can't rely on the voice and tone to carry it for you.

Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

Susan said...

I've used this process for years. It really does help me a lot! :)

I'm also blogging through the A to Z Challenge:
Haiku Corner
Stay Calm And Carry On

Michael Di Gesu said...

I do it all the time Mood. It works great. And you're right, you have to be careful with the dialogue.

This is such great practice and you really catch so much.

Beverly said...

This is really good advice. So often after I posted something I read over it and realize I've made a typo.
I make my son read out loud as well. He has A.D.D. I was told it would help him understand what he is reading better.
Found your blog via the A-Z challenge. Following You! Come on over and say "hi".
Blue Velvet Vincent

Arlee Bird said...

I do find that reading aloud helps tremendously. But a third party reader is also very important.


Lee
Tossing It Out

Melissa Kline said...

Wow! This is an AMAZING post. I find reading aloud extremely helpful when editing or reviewing my work. Loved your insights on how writers read and readers read - very interesting... and a bit mind boggling! He, he. In a good way. Thanks so much for the helpful advice!

~Melissa
Reflections on Writing

Ryan Sullivan said...

Hey, Moody.

I've never really read my work out loud, and now I can see the many benefits of doing it. It may become part of the final stage of my revision process.

Frankie said...

This ties in directly with a conversation I was having a couple days ago about why I hate opening with dialog. My point in that discussion was that, when a writer starts with a line of dialog, they already have the scene set in their head. They know who the character is, who they're talking to, they have the context for the line. For the reader, it's a voice in a void.

I often read my work aloud. I find there are times where I naturally substitute a word while I am reading in place of what is written, and those substitutions usually improve the flow.

mooderino said...

Thanks for all the comments, much appreciated.

@Frankie - I agree. There is a place for the voice in the void, like at the start of a movie when the screen in black and you hear someone speak without knowing who it is, but that effect is easy to misuse or to use for no reason. Even if it's intentional, there should be a purpose to that intention, and there rarely is.

Roberta Walker said...

Great advice. I always read out loud...My dogs, while not great at the critiquing part, are great listeners :) Luckily, I have a great Beta reader!

Roberta Walker said...

And if I had bothered to read my comment out loud I would have caught how many times I said "great". Sheesh.

Laura Pauling said...

I only started reading my work aloud with my last wip and I also use the Kindle text to speech to catch typos but there's no inflection so reading it aloud is still better.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I always read my writing out loud, even if it's just for a sentence I wrote. Only then can you catch the mistakes and see that it doesn't flow like you thought it did. And the sooner you figure this out the better. :D

Alexis Bass Writes said...

It's so true - reading out loud makes ALL the difference. Beta readers are also a necessity. I will have to look into this Kindle text to speech function (mentioned by @laura Pauling) - sounds interesting...

Anne K. Albert said...

Super advice. I have a writer friend who reads her own work aloud beautifully. When I attempt to read her story, however, the words don't flow and it sometimes feels like work. We all need to make it easy for our readers. I'm so glad you pointed that out.

Stephen Tremp said...

I like to read intense dialogue in the mirror from my MS, using my arms and hands, using different voice for the characters. Sometimes I stop and laugh becuase its kinda hilarious to do that.

Lisa Gail Green said...

Really good point about dialogue. Something not a lot of people point out.

Nofretiri said...

Sorry, this time I simply can't agree with you! It depends on what sense-type you are, e.g. my strongest sense is the visual one, my weakest hearing. When I have to read something out loud, I have to concentrate on the reading, that after finishing I'm not able to say anything about the meaning, the significance, the logic or whatever of the text, that I've just read a second before. Another fact is, that I totally lose interest and concentration on audio books!
That for, I have to use other techniques for this problem: like visualisation like a movie of what I've read, paragraph for paragraph or chapter for chapter! Some other writers with other dominant senses might use, if the scene feels right!

Karin @ Nofretiris Dream Of Writing

mooderino said...

@Nofretiri - Hey Karin, fair point. People with specific issues like that will need to make subjective adjustments.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I do read out loud too--or at least the dialogue part. :-)

the writing pad said...

Loved the words -> meaning; meaning -> words point you made. Hadn't fully thought of it like that before. Agree about reading aloud - even if just to see what word patterns etc might trip up the un-pre-primed reader (like that one might!)
Another great post - thanks

Donea Lee said...

This is definitely something to think about - reading aloud is also really great to check out your pacing and phrasing, the flow. 3rd-party critiques have often taught me that not everyone gets my "meaning". Thanks for the reminder!

Donna Weaver said...

I always read my WIPs to my hubby, but you're right about the dialogue. I read it the way I mean it to sound, and that' not necessarily how hubby would read it himself.

Beverly Diehl said...

Great advice. If we reach our goal of selling a zillion of the suckers, we'd better really, really like the way our words "taste" in our mouths, because we'll be doing a lot of readings.

Also, in feedback groups I always have someone else read my pages, cold. I really hear where dialogue is clunky or other parts grind to a halt then.

Dawn Embers said...

Definitely something I plan to do when I'm getting ready to edit. Reading out loud really does help. One of my English teachers in high school made us read our papers out loud to her. It seemed weird at the time.

anthony stemke said...

My spouse reads her wip to me constantly. I don't like it but listen anyway. I deplore audio books. Am old school, love the printed word. After she reads to me I say"May I read it too?" and I get more out of it that way.
But the author reading it aloud to oneself I think is a good thing.
Thank You for your post.

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