Why you should read your book aloud before you call it done

Posted Jul 13 2015, 5:30 pm in , , , ,

listen.jpgIf you get thirty authors together and ask them what their process is, you’ll get thirty different responses. Some authors are pantsers, some are plotters. Some believe they don’t need a developmental editor, some wouldn’t write an email without getting it vetted. Some swear by proofreaders, and others by beta readers. 

Ultimately, an author’s process is an individual choice, and there is no “one” way to do it right. 

That said, there are a few tricks that apply whether you’re writing your first book or your fifty-seventh… and reading aloud your manuscript is one of them. 

The technique is every bit as simple as it sounds. You print off your manuscript (not required, but recommended) and read every word aloud. Some authors touch the words as they read them, some authors read the words like they are performing a play. Some authors simply mutter the words under their breath, like a nervous mole sharing covert information. It doesn’t matter how loud you are, as long as you say the words out loud. All of them. 

Yes, it takes a long time. Without question. But if you’ve never tried this technique before, I urge you to adopt it for your current Work In Process. Why? Because reading aloud offers you these key benefits:

1. You’ll see words in a whole new way

As writers, we’re used to words written on the page or blinking at us on the screen. It’s how we typically work with our stories. By reading the text aloud, however, we’re forced to look at words individually–often catching typographical errors and word repetitions far more easily than when our eye skims over a page. 

2. You’ll “hear” the flow of your story

Whether you’re trying to write lyrical pose or a tightly-paced action caper, your story has a built-in cadence based on your sentence structure, word choice, and balance of narrative, dialog and exposition. By reading your story aloud, you’ll be able to experience that cadence the way your reader does. In short order, you’ll identify which sections move quickly, which plod along, and which devolve into hopelessly boring backstory. Reading aloud gives you the most ruthless editor you could ask for: your own ear. 

3. You’ll learn the truth about your story (the real truth, not the one in your head)

Of course you know your story – you wrote it, after all. You probably spent weeks (if not months) plotting the darn thing, and you could share the inner working of your hero’s motivations at length over dinner (and then dessert–and then drinks after). But how much of that amazingly rich texture actually made it to the page? Sometimes less than you think. Sometimes more than you planned. And sometimes the same powerful detail made it into your book not once, but twice (whoops). You’d like to think you’d notice these details just by reading your manuscript… and you might. But reading it aloud will help you take a deeper dive into your manuscript, a dive that you will be grateful for once you start catching things that just “sound” wrong. 

Your book is ultimately your book, your baby, your decision. But if you want to take your writing to the next level, you only need to take it to a second sense. Don’t just see the words on the page… listen to them. And help bring your story to life. 

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