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.