Reading Aloud

By Linda Nagata
(cross-posted from Hahví.net)

When I’m revising and polishing a manuscript, I read it aloud. Not just once, either. I’ll go through it paragraph by paragraph, and when something gets changed, I’ll go back and re-read the changed section along with the preceding and following sentences. If I’ve done a lot of changes, I’ll re-read the whole chapter again, aloud. (Obsessive? Moi?)

Hearing the words lets me hear the rhythm, and usually makes the clunky repetitions really stand out. It also reveals the sentences that are fine if they’re read with the correct expression, but which don’t work so well if one is just “reading through.” Those usually get changed.

Being curious how many other writers are read-alouders, I did what anyone in the modern world would do: I queried twitter.

Writers: when revising & polishing, do you read your work aloud?

Only one of those who replied confessed to not reading aloud at all. Most who answered read aloud to some degree or in some way. Here are some samples:

* Only reading dialogue aloud

* Only reading dialogue and difficult passages aloud

* Reading aloud to a significant other. (This one boggles me: to have an SO with such patience!)

* Having a computer read back the manuscript.

I’m intrigued by this last one. The way I work, I would need to read and re-read with my own voice, because I go over the same words so many times, but I can definitely see the advantage of hearing a computer reading back the manuscript on the last go-through. First, because its “eye” isn’t going to skip over the repeated words or incorrect verb tenses, so you will hear them. And second, because a good human reader can make bad writing sound decent, but I don’t think the flat voice of a machine is going to do that.

I’ll read expressively when I start revising, but at some point I try to go over things in a flat, non-expressive voice to see if the flow is still there.

Thanks to all those on twitter who responded! I’m heading off now, to read and revise.

Linda Nagata is the Locus and Nebula award winning author of The Bohr Maker, Vast, and Memory, all available at Book View Cafe. Her latest book The Dread Hammer, is a fast-paced mythic fantasy of love, war, murder, marriage, and fate.

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Reading Aloud — 7 Comments

  1. Oh sure. I try to read all my major works out loud; long car journeys are ideal for this. I remember reading the first chunk of REVISE THE WORLD out loud to my family as we were driving to the beach. After the first chapter or so I looked in back; both kids were raptly sitting there mouths agape, and it was particularly gratifying to see a Harry Potter volume lying open, neglected, on my daughter’s lap.
    If you read it out loud you can hear many infelicities of tone, cadence or word choice; it becomes plain immediately when you should be using a contraction and when they should go.

  2. I love the image of the story-stunned children!

    What surprises me is how many newish writers don’t read aloud — even after I’ve nagged them to. 🙂

    General errors, word repetitions, overuse of said–all become so obvious.

  3. And you can immediately suss out the “oh, she never would have said that” bits. With a bit of encouragement you can get your listener (if you have one) to pipe up whenever anything is unclear: “Wait a minute, hon — was it Robert who has the gun, or is it Lorinda?” I am informed that Orson Scott Card has carried this very far, training his wife to be his first reader. It had to be his wife so that she wouldn’t grow up/graduate/move away.

  4. I missed that tweet, Linda. I read aloud, too — in fact, I was reading aloud to get back into a manuscript after family Stuff when I decided to move.

    So next week, once I’m moved and have basics unpacked, I will back up a chapter, and start reading aloud to get back into the world I’m currently writing in.

    How can newbies not ever read their stuff aloud? I hate to read a sample out loud at a convention unless I’ve already read it out loud to myself. Gotta catch repetitions, places where the flow falters, etc. etc..

    I love the dumbfounded children, Brenda. Was it subject matter, or that they hadn’t pictured you describing something so grim?

  5. KEK, I cheated. The novel begins (as we are so often advised not to do!) with a long quotation from a historical document. However, I used a chunk of one of the most thrilling adventure accounts of all time: the last journal of Robert Scott. You cannot hear or read this and not continue — it’s just impossible. And THEN, the time travel.

  6. Stuttering can make it too hard to focus on the story.

    Then I can generally hear it in the mind’s ear. Certainly enough to keep from rhyming or excessive alliteration.

  7. I guess I get to be the odd man out. It would never occur to me to read my own writing out loud, because I hear it so clearly when I’m writing it. I have always written as though my prose were going to be recited. This is often a problem, because it makes first-drafting difficult and slow, and perhaps, as I learn to let go of edit-mind I will find this technique more useful.

    That said, it certainly would help find the cut and paste disasters that the eye so easily skips over.