Thursday, February 5, 2015

5 Reasons to Read Your Draft Aloud

by Jemi Fraser

As a teacher, I'm pretty comfortable reading aloud. I know not everyone is, but I think there are some really valid reasons why you should read your story aloud to yourself. Not the first draft, but when you're nearing the end of the process, when you suspect the story is almost there.

Here are some of the benefits I've found from reading aloud my own stories - and the stories of others.

Read Aloud Benefit #1 -- Stilted Writing
  • what may sound okay on paper, might reveal itself as stilted once you read it aloud
  • of course there are different levels of formality in writing and in speech, but generally, we want our writing to sound accessible and comfortable
  • if you feel even a little awkward reading a certain section, rethink it because your readers may feel just as awkward when they're reading it
Read Aloud Benefit #2 -- Sentence Structure
  • as you read, you'll notice if your sentences aren't working
  • sometimes, they're just too long -- you should be able to breathe easily as you read
  • you'll also be able to hear if you've got a variety of sentence lengths. If many of your sentences match structure-wise, you'll probably find yourself sounding mildly robot-like. Mix it up!
Read Aloud Benefit #3 -- Dialogue
  • dialogue should sound like people talking (obviously), so, if you've got a problem, reading aloud makes this one easy to spot. If you automatically change your words to their contraction form as you read, it's a good idea to do that with the written form too. Same with sentences, words, or phrases. If you say it differently from the actual text (good readers do this all the time because their eyes are tracking ahead), consider if what your brain substituted is actually a better choice
  • when you're reading aloud, it's also easy to spot when you have too much dialogue with too few physical actions or reactions between. If you get confused as to who is saying what, your reader is going to be confused as well
Read Aloud Benefit #4 -- Humour
  • humour is tough! I'm not talented in this area at all, but I've read aloud a lot of books by authors who are
  • when you read aloud, you'll hear & feel the beat of the humourous sections, and it's easier to tell if it's working or falling flat
  • you'll find there are better places for humour than others (in the sentence, in the paragraph, in the chapter)
  • you'll hear what works directly after that beat of humour - sometimes the silence of a chapter ending is the perfect finish for the punch line
Read Aloud Benefit #5 -- Practice
  • one day, you might be asked to read aloud some of your own work - at a book club, a book signing, on TV, or to a group of movie directors asking how you want to play out a scene (hey, if you're going to dream, dream big!). You want to be comfortable doing that. 
  • as with anything else, reading aloud takes practice. I would NEVER ask a student to read aloud something they hadn't had a chance to rehearse and I'd suggest the same to you. The first time we do anything, we tend to not be very good at it. So, don't make an important read aloud your first time. I advise students to read aloud the section at LEAST ten times before they present. 
  • the more you read your own work, the more natural your voice. You'll know when to pause, when to inflect, how to pace yourself. And you'll actually find yourself having fun!
Hope some of those help you decide to try this out! I've found it a very helpful and effective editing technique. Have you tried it before? Any tips or reasons to add?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Reading aloud for the dialogue really makes a difference. You can catch stilted exchanges and make them sound more natural.

Beth said...

I read my writing out loud all the time, and it's so beneficial. It's the best way I know to edit, but it works for all the areas you mentioned. (I'm still waiting to hear from that movie crew.)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I learned to do that from two playrights. I have to do it when my husband isn't around though, because then I feel goofy.

Jemi Fraser said...

Alex - exactly!

Beth - keep watching - they might be on their way!

Diane - me too! Always when I'm alone :)

Matt Sinclair said...

As usual, a great post, Jemi. I still haven't found a good reason NOT to read something aloud beforehand.

Medeia Sharif said...

I always read my manuscripts aloud. I do it several times to check for flow and errors.

JeffO said...

It will also help you pick up spelling errors and typos. The act of reading it in a different way allows you to see things you've stopped seeing.

Jemi Fraser said...

Matt - that's so true! (and thanks!)

Medeia - it's so helpful :)

Jeff - great point! I definitely become blind to my errors :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

I totally agree that reading aloud helps your manuscript especially with the dialog. It does make it easy to see poorly constructed sentences. I like how you mention humor has it's own beat. It does. It's especially evident when you read it aloud. :-)

Sia McKye Over Coffee

DMS said...

I totally agree with you, Jemi. I need to read what I have written aloud because I can more easily find errors or things that don't work. :)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Reading my manuscript aloud is an important part of the self-editing process for me. It's unbelievable how much we hear that we don't see in an ordinary reading. I've also found that reading from a printed copy reveals problems I don't see when I read from the computer screen.

Jemi Fraser said...

Sia - it really is. Love reading aloud a book from a great humourous author - Gordon Korman's are always fun!

Jess - me too! It really helps :)

Pat - I agree! And it's amazing how that switch to paper helps too!

Julie Musil said...

Jemi, you're SO right! I'm reading mine aloud right now and catching all sorts of stuff.

Jemi Fraser said...

Julie - I'm always amazed at what I find too!

Tammy Theriault said...

love all the tips. I will sit and say some of the things or do the actions. hugs babe!

Lynda R Young said...

Reading aloud is for writing what looking at your art in a mirror is for painting. It gives a whole new perspective. Wonderful post, Jemi.

Jemi Fraser said...

Tammy - I'll do some of the actions too - feels weird, but it's helped! :)

Lynda - thanks! I hadn't thought of the mirror thing for art - that's an awesome idea!!

Shelley Sly said...

Yes, yes, yes, to all of these points!

I must read my manuscripts aloud, because otherwise, I catch issues with rhythm and sentence structure. I also catch way too many unintentional rhymes that end up sounding silly. ;)

Jemi Fraser said...

Shelley - that's a great addition - I've caught a few of those myself, and they're never at a good spot!

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