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Listen to Your Own Words

by BLH on February 18th, 2013

As my regular readers know, I’m entering the editing stage of work on my novel. It’s an exciting place to be at first, but no doubt the excitement will soon wear off and I’ll find myself in the editing doldrums. One way to fight the editing blahs, though, is to keep shaking up the way I edit. Sometimes I print out chapters and sometimes I don’t; sometimes I rewrite portions by hand, and sometimes I tinker with cut and paste on the computer screen. Another editing weapon I’ve added to my arsenal is the magic of hearing my own words read out loud.

If you read aloud your own work, a number of tricky elements of editing instantly become clear. The rhythm of an awkward sentence, which you were letting slide on the page, now sounds intolerable. An odd choice of words becomes strange and clunky in your ears. It’s the ultimate test for scenes of great emotion, or particularly, sex scenes — an awkward one just becomes silly when read aloud, but a successful one will survive being heard. As I begin the editing process, I’ll be reading aloud as much as I can, with a pen in hand so that I can pause and mark any places that just aren’t cutting it.


There’s another element of hearing your own words that can be helpful: I’m also having a friend read my work aloud to me. That way I’m not distracted by the actual performance of reading; I can listen like an impartial observer. I also can hear where it’s not clear to the non-writer how I meant to emphasize things. Because I’m the writer, when I’m reading I know when to focus on one part of the sentence; when a newcomer reads to me, the reader only gets the clues that are on the page. It can really make clear what’s on the page and what’s only in my mind.

So maybe you’ve already heard that it’s a good idea to read your work aloud; but I bet you haven’t heard before that it’s a good idea to have your work read TO you. Find a friend who isn’t a writing expert and listen to your work; you’ll find yourself hearing all sorts of problems that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.


From → The Writing Life

5 Comments
  1. BLH, great post. And there is software out there that can read your work to you — my ereader does this, but there is also plenty of software to run on pc’s as well — I’m about to check out something that claims it’s a free text-to-speech converter.
    We’ll see.
    http://www.naturalreaders.com/index.php

  2. Reading aloud to myself is so helpful! But having someone else read it aloud, awesome idea! An outside reader would not know the background of each thought you had while writing and it would definitely showcase any awkward sentences. Thanks for the good tool.
    Susie

  3. mary brady permalink

    My oldest sister (5 kids in my family) tells me she reads my emails aloud “so I don’t miss any of your jokes.”

    Readers of these comments will know that my ‘jokes’ are rarely so subtle as to require this.

    Still, it got me thinking about hearing my ‘work’ read aloud.
    And, wow, BLH! To have a friend read your work to you is a brilliant idea! (On the other hand, I occasionally read my stupid emails to my stupid sister aloud now JUST to hear how they sound. This is a brilliant waste of time.)

    It is so true that writers would naturally emphasize one word over another where their readers might never do so. It’s like hearing a person read who doesn’t know a period is coming shortly–they don’t drop their voice. It can be quite funny to hear! I always laugh & point.

    But, as you say, who is looking for yuks in the middle of the sex scene? (Like in ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’–all that ‘I placed my manhood’ business. Reading aloud would have caught THAT sort of silliness for DH, I’m sure.)

    I think you’re awfully brave to edit this way. Brave but brilliant. I cannot think of a better way to work the ‘clumsy prose kinks’ out of a piece than to have a person unfamiliar with the story read it to you.

    Hi Margaret!! Thanks so much for adding that website for us!

  4. mary brady permalink

    Hey. I wasn’t through.

    Does anyone use Dragon & is it fantastic? Or is it a bust?

    Please advise if you know. I’d be very grateful. Thanks in advance.

    L&K, MaryB

  5. I have a good writer friend who uses Dragon. It has its problems, but it does work. You have to train the program to your voice, however, which requires an up-front investment of time.

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