Tuesday Tips: Read It Out Loud

Read out LoudSo you’ve finished the first draft of your novel, and it’s time for revisions. Maybe you’re even working on the second or third draft, and now you’ve hit a rough patch. You quickly start second guessing yourself. Does that dialog really scan? Does it sound like something the character would really say? What about that description? Is it too long? Does the metaphor really work?  At this point, I feel like many authors start to sink into the revision swamp of despair… So let me throw you a rope: Try reading it out loud.

Whenever you come across a problematic place in your manuscript, read it out loud. It will help you hear what words actually made it onto the page, instead of the many variations that are floating around in your head. You will also be able to quickly identify the exact spot that isn’t working, because that’s the spot where you will trip over the words, or have to pause awkwardly in the middle of the sentence, or in worse case scenarios, trail off with a … “well, that doesn’t work.”

Reading out loud is also invaluable for testing dialog, especially if you really get into it and do the voices. When you can actually hear the words, instead of reading them, it’s much easier to identify the places where it just doesn’t sound like real people talking. There have been many,  many times (especially during the line editing and copyediting stages), where I’ve been on the phone with authors reading them various versions of a conversation until we hit the perfect phrasing.

Finally, reading longer sections at a time (like a whole scene or chapter) can be a great way to check your pacing. Are you getting bogged down in description? Have you been reading for 15 minutes without anything actually happening? Are you exhausted after a half hour because you’ve put three fight scenes and a wrenching emotional character moment in the same chapter?

Honestly, I really recommend that you read the entire book out loud at least once before you submit it. And ideally, you should read it to an audience of real people. Maybe family members who love you and are easy to corner. Or very patient friends. An author once shared with me that he read part of what he considered to be a very exciting chapter of his work in progress to a crowd at an event, and he was surprised by how quickly he lost the audience. It really drove home that the ratio of action to worldbuilding was off.

Rockstar Author Neil Gaiman dressed as Dickens, reading A Christmas Carol (image from slj.com)

Rockstar Author Neil Gaiman dressed as Dickens reading A Christmas Carol (image from slj.com)

Yes. I know its fifty to seventy thousand words, and I know that it takes a long time to read it out loud (especially when you are going to want to stop every little bit and jot notes), but I really think it is worth it. After all, if your book is published, there is a HIGH probability that it will be read out loud many times. There might be an audio edition. Readers might read bits out loud to each other. (I know that I have often read my favorite scenes to friends and family as a way of recommending the book.)  And you will definitely be required to do a reading at any signings or author events that might be scheduled. Wouldn’t you hate to discover too late that your favorite scene, while beautiful on paper, actually has a terrible tongue twister in the middle of it?

Trust me. Read it out loud before you get that far.

Author spotlight

Holly West

Senior Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Dedicated fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

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