The Benefits of Reading Your Work Aloud Revisited

Yes, I have already posted on this topic–but it’s been two years. Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve been blogging long enough to decide to write on something only to find I already did. And in this case, when I looked back at my original post, I was actually pretty satisfied with what I had to say on the topic (aside from cringing at the fact that I’d thought reading out loud would be a waste of time. Bad Michelle!). However, due to the amount of time that’s passed and since I have new readers since then, I’m going to update the post with some examples–because there has to be some added value :).

So here are specific areas where reading your work aloud will benefit your manuscript.

Point of view. My work-in-progress is written in alternating points of view, so reading it aloud was extremely helpful in keeping those voices distinct. I noticed turns of phrase or words that sounded out of place for a particular character. When I heard the words in addition to seeing them, it was much clearer that they didn’t fit the character.

For example, imagine a teenage boy thinking about the girl he loves with her current boyfriend. In my draft, it said:

“Brant hadn’t made it past first base (although I wished he hadn’t even gotten that far).”

When I read this out loud, it sounded off. Not that a boy doesn’t wish for things, but I knew it could be stronger. So I revised it to this:

“Brant hadn’t made it past first base (although it burned me he’d even gotten that far).”

It looked all right on the page, but until I heard it, I didn’t realize it was off for the character.

Something else that stood out to me was the tone of each character toward the supporting characters. Word choice is particularly important in conveying the tone, and it’s jarring when you hear the wrong word. For this particular MS, my two MCs are coming from two very different places at the beginning of the story. The female MC is in the dark about the world around her, so she has a mostly favorable attitude toward characters the male MC disdains because of what he knows. It became very clear as I read out loud if a description of a particular character was being attributed to the wrong MC.

Dialogue. As with point of view, dialogue needs to be unique to each character. Often I would read something and think, “Character A wouldn’t say that, but Character B would,” or vice versa. And within a scene, I could tell if the characters sounded too similar.

For this particular manuscript, I had a couple of characters with accents, so it stood out if my foreign character used too many contractions or my Southern character needed to say something with a different cadence.

More particularly with dialogue, I had to address how different characters referred to each other and authority figures. Would the MC’s boyfriend refer to her parents as Mr. and Mrs. or by their first names? Do they call each other by their names or do they use nicknames? My female MC had a nickname for the antagonist, and it was only as I read out loud that I realized I hadn’t consistently used it.

A few other questions that popped up as I was reading the dialogue:

  • Would this particular character use that metaphor?
  • Is this adult talking too much like a teenager?
  • How do these two characters react to each other differently than these other two during dialogue? Do they fall into familiar patterns?

Repeated words. Although I have a pretty good eye for noticing repeated words or phrases, reading aloud helps in that I notice if I use the same words too often. Maybe the phrases aren’t on the same page or even in the same chapter, but they’re more noticeable out loud. It also stands out when one character thinks or says something and then a different one thinks or say something similar, making the repetition a voice issue.

(My crutch words/phrases for this manuscript: stride, glance, going to. I’ll find more when I go back through with the express purpose of weeding them out!)

Flow. Often things that look fine on the page don’t sound as strong when you say them out loud. Sometimes I’d read something that looked perfectly fine but sounded awkward. I also added many contractions and deleted a lot of unnecessary phrases. Even if the book is never read aloud or put into audiobook form, I’d still like for it to flow.

Specifics. It’s common advice: always use specifics instead of generalities when you can. It speaks to voice in addition to giving the reader a stronger sense of place and character. A number of these generalities stood out as I read. I’d think: this character would be more specific. It might seem minor to replace “coffee” with “cafe au lait” or “TV” with “a family drama” but there’s a reason for it, and it impacts the overall tone of the story.

Qualifying statements. I thought I was pretty good about catching these while drafting, but I guess not good enough :). In any case, there were exponentially fewer qualifiers in this manuscript than, say, CAVEBOY. Anyway, those I thought, I knew, it seemed’s really stood out when I heard them loud and clear. Sure, they have a place, but most of the time they’re unnecessary.

Hmmm. I had a lot more to add to this topic than I originally thought. And I will be reading this manuscript aloud multiple times–maybe not with every draft, but enough to catch all those POV slips and clunky sentences and repeated words. What about you? Anything to add to my comments on the benefits of reading your manuscript out loud?

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About Michelle I. Mason

I'm a full-time writer, focusing mainly on middle grade and young adult fiction with some freelance PR writing and editing on the side. I'm also a wife, mom, Christian, violinist, avid reader and St. Louis Cardinals fan. And I watch way too much TV.
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5 Responses to The Benefits of Reading Your Work Aloud Revisited

  1. Ivona reader is my life saver. I put that little electronic voice to read my entire manuscripts for me, and it’s so worth it. Highly recommend it!

    • I haven’t tried any programs that read for me, but I should! In fact, I will when it’s time to again. That should add a different element to it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Pingback: Quick Tip: After A Major Revision, Do a POV Voice Check | Michelle I. Mason

  3. Pingback: Quick Tip: Listen to Your Manuscript WITHOUT Reading Along | Michelle I. Mason

  4. Pingback: Why You Might Want to Change That Repeated Word | Michelle I. Mason

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