Wednesday, March 31

Speaking Out: Reading Your Work Aloud

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I've always been a fan of reading your work out loud to test it, but let me tell you -- read the same pages three times in a row and you get a very good idea of where the trouble spots are.

There's one line in a scene I frequently read that I stumble over every single time I read it. It reads in the book okay, but something about the combination of words was a tongue twister.

"The night was more humid than usual, but a slight breeze blew his sand-pale hair."

I kept saying "bleeze."

Our eyes skim over words when we read silently. That's why it's so easy to miss typos and invisible descriptive words. But when you're forced to read them out loud, you trip over words that could be causing problems. If I were revising that sentence now, I'd probably get rid of slight. It's an empty adjective, because really, aren't all breezes slight? Or use soft instead of slight, which would also fix the stumble. It needed something there, because I liked the rhythm of the sentence with that extra word, and taking it out made the sentence feel choppy.

It can be time consuming, but reading your work out loud does give you a different perspective on it. And it might not be a tool you use all the time, just for scenes that you feel are off in some way but can't put your finger on what. Your eyes can't spot it, but your ears (and tongue) zero right in on it.

It could also be helpful down the road when you find yourself reading to 80 people.

Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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  1. I get what you mean about wanting the seemingly empty adjective for the sake of good rhythm. That is the main reason I'll use adverbs when they're not necessary. Sometimes, it's just a better flow with that extra word.

    How exciting that you got to read in front of a group of students! That's something I've wanted to do, but I don't write stories appropriate to their level. I'd have to do either high school or college students (or adults, obviously), but that thought scares me. The older a person gets, the more cynical they become.

    Good advice about reading your work out loud. I do that with my stories before a final edit, and it always surprises me how much still needs a little extra tweaking.

  2. I've done this pretty much from when I started writing. My family had another family from church over for lunch, so 14-year-old me was stuck with an 8-year-old to entertain with a room full of... books. I asked if she'd be interested in hearing the story I'd just started writing so I'd have something to do with her.

    She was my first fan and critic. I read aloud to her, and as I started writing on the computer, she read it silently along with me. I'd catch stuff from reading aloud, and then she would catch things I missed. (Yes, at age 8.)

    The read-aloud also helped with school. I'm prone to writing lots of compound-complex sentences and like technical topics. Reading a paper aloud helps avoid incoherence.

    A downside is I'm sometimes oversensitive to how something sounds, and I try so hard to make it flow poetically that it ends up silly.

  3. Great advice. I also find printing out the manuscript versus reading it on the computer helps catch things.

    Perhaps sometime you could do a post on how to successfully do a middle school author visit. I've done a few at my daughter's elementary school even though I'm not published. They are so easy to please at that age. It seems like it'd be harder at middle school, though I could be wrong.

  4. I did just such a post in October, so here ya go :)

    Middle schoolers can be rough, because they're so honest. If you're not holding their attention they won't just sit there and smile. They'll talk, fidget, ignore you. There's a clear difference even between the sixth graders and the eighth graders there. Sixth graders ask a ton of questions and are very curious. Eighth graders, you never know if you're going to engage them or not. When you do, it's great, when you don't, whew, it's hard. You kinda feel like an idiot up there.

  5. Thanks for the advice. Sorry I didn't follow your blog earlier. I worry I'd be the idiot standing up there. Hope for the chance anyway someday.

  6. I didn't stumbled over the words when reading the sentence, but it is a good point. I like to read my work out loud. There have actually been a couple of times when I've bored myself and realized the pacing was too slow through a section.

  7. No worries, Natalie, I wasn't scolding. Just letting you know it was there :) I don't expect everyone to know and remember every post I ever did.

  8. Shouldn't it be sand HYPHEN pale hair? Although I don't know what that color could be, since sand comes in all colors, including black. Unless the color of the sand in question has already been established.

    But right, if you read your work out loud, you discover all sorts of things, including things you did very well.

  9. Yep, there's a hyphen. It's in the book, I just typoed it here :)

  10. Reading my work out loud is one of the most important things I do. I've just gone back to reread the first two chapters and I'm still finding things to correct.

    I follow you on twitter and your posts are very informative and helpful. Thanks!

  11. Beth, most welcome! (and thanks for following) It's amazing how changing the way we look at something let's us see different things.