Sunday, 23 May 2010

Perform it!

My 12-year old son wants to be an actor. (He has a bit of talent, particularly for humour and characterisation, so, who knows? Maybe he'll be the first ginger-haired Doctor Who!)

He decided recently he wasn't good enough at reading aloud, and thought that improving this skill would help his acting abilities. So for the first time in several years, I'm called upon to listen to him read a few pages every bedtime. We sit side by side on his bed, and he reads from The Hobbit, complete with different voices for each character (growls for the dwarves, squeaks for Bilbo, magisterial for Gandalf and something very strange and eerie for Gollum).

It's interesting to spot the sentences he stumbles on. While I adore Tolkien's work, his prose isn't the most flowing-most, you have to admit. Even in The Hobbit, which was written for children, there are some run-on sentences and strange constructions. You gloss over these when you read it in your head - it does make sense so you skip over the difficulties of the sentence construction.

But, how much better could it be if those awkwardnesses were ironed out? How much more pleasurable would it be to read? Well, it's too late for Tolkien and admittedly, it's not done his sales any harm. But what about your work? Your just-finished story, that you're considering sending off to Take A Break or Woman's Weekly once you've printed it off? How does it sound? Have you read it aloud? No? Why not?

Reading aloud uses a different part of your brain than reading in your head. The words have got to get from eyes through brain to mouth, where they have to be properly formed in the correct order.

Pick a quiet moment if you're shy, when everyone else is out of the house. Print off a copy of your story, stand up, and read it to an imaginary audience. (Or, if you're braver and a member of a writing circle, take it to the next meeting and read it there.)

Awkward sentences will you can be sure stand out especially if they could do with more punctuation (like this one). Run-on sentences (as this one will be) being those which start talking about one subject and end up being about another will stand out because by the time you get to the end of it you will find you are completely out of breath even if you are a trained opera singer with an amazing control of your voice like Katherine Jenkins and what has she got to do with the subject of this post anyway? You'll notice if your character name changes and Katherine Jenkins becomes Kathryn Jennings or, worse, Pamela Smith. If your story has too much description, or takes pages to get going, you'll spot that too, as you or your audience will have nodded off before you get to the climax. And alarming accidental alliteration will tie your tongue in knots, so you'll notice that too.

So, when submitting a story: before you post it, perform it. Read your story aloud, deal with the bits you stumble over, count this as the final edit. If it reads smoother aloud, it'll flow beautifully when read silently.

Which means you'll stand a better chance of selling it.

20 comments:

Janie B said...

Very good advice. Thanks!

Paula Williams said...

That's great advice, womag. I have a little voice recorder which I read my stories into (for my ears only!) and then play it back. It somehow creates a distance between me and what I've just written.

fairyhedgehog said...

I've heard this advice before but never so interestingly or compellingly.

I used to read to my sons and I only stopped with my youngest when he was about twelve. He could read for himself long before that but we enjoyed sharing books. It would have been fun to get him to do the voices like your son did.

HelenMHunt said...

That's really good advice. I do try to do it when I can, or if Im struggling with something I know doesn't look right on the page.

I must try to do it more often.

Nan Sheppard said...

Great Idea! And good luck, budding actor. (he IS good at voices!)

Old Kitty said...

Oh gosh I hate the sound of my voice and clam up everytime I was made to read out loud at school!

But I do see your point about reading out loud to see the bits that you stumble over!

I look forward to seeing your son as the first ginger haired doctor Who!

Take care
x

Queenie said...

I always do this, and it makes a huge difference. Not, sadly, such that I sell everything - but I do spot loads of howlers that I hadn't seen before. I do it with book-length manuscripts, too. Really worthwhile.

David said...

Great post - made me chuckle too! Thanks for this.

Honeysuckle said...

I love the idea of your son wanting you to listen to him reading out loud. It'll only be two or three years now and he'll have morphed into full-blown teenage boy and you'll be lucky if you get a grunt from him every three months.
But yes, good advice.

Keith Havers said...

I'm going to be controversial here and disagree (just a bit) with what you're saying. While reading aloud can show up some glaring errors in your work I think that if a piece is not specifically meant for reading aloud then you shouldn't worry too much about the flow because, as you say, you gloss over a lot of things. After all, isn't that why they rewrite well-known books when they read them out on radio?

Tickle said...

This is an interesting post. I ALWAYS read my stories aloud before I submit as my creative writing tutor, the lovely Tessa Krailing, used to claim that "the ear is a better editor than the eye." I can certainly hear any last minute mistakes.
However I also agree with Keith. Recently I had to read aloud a story at a live mic competition (very frightening!). I had to re-write it as I found a story to be performed is quite different to a story to be silently read.

womagwriter said...

Oh, I agree that a story designed to be read aloud, perhaps on the radio, is a different thing to one designed to be read silently from a magazine. But even so, editing by ear (good phrase, Tickle!) is definitely worth doing before you submit.

Kath said...

At my writers' group, we read each other's work aloud. It does give you an idea of what might sound awkward or cause somebody to stumble over the words - also an idea of how strong your story is, if people still get it. But a lot does depend, I have to admit, on how good the reader is. I feel some people's stories haven't always had a fair hearing.

Lydia said...

I often read aloud bits of dialogue to answer the questions: does that sound right? would anhyone actually say that? But I agree with the point about prose to be read being different from prose to be spoken. It has to be, otherwise we'd all just be writing as we speak (which O.K. is sometimes required). Charles Dickens used to read his stuff aloud all the time and it never did him any harm! x
www.lydijones.co.uk/blog

Kerry Ashwin said...

I read aloud to my son 12 y.o. and have done for ages. If he can't follow the plot as I read then I know I have to fix it.
"Was Bob the one who went to the lake?" type of thing. Youth is a great leveler.

Tracy said...

Totally agree with this advice. I read this somewhere recently and started applying to my own writing. I was re-editing my first novel (completed) and read this aloud (one chapter a day) - despite having proof read 3 times before and had 1 other person proof read I still found numerous revisions, both grammatical and sentence structure. So even if your work is not designed to be read out aloud it still adds value to do this yourself before submission.

Tracy said...

Totally agree with this advice. I read this somewhere recently and started applying to my own writing. I was re-editing my first novel (completed) and read this aloud (one chapter a day) - despite having proof read 3 times before and had 1 other person proof read I still found numerous revisions, both grammatical and sentence structure. So even if your work is not designed to be read out aloud it still adds value to do this yourself before submission.

Suzanne Jones said...

This is great advice. I used to read my work to my daughter when she was younger.

X

Bluestocking Mum said...

This definitely works. Great advice.
Thank you

Jenny said...

This is great advice and something I keep telling my 11 year old daughter (she is a writer too!) I like to read my stories out to my family but only when they've been accepted for publication! (yep, I'm a chicken!)