Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reading Aloud

“Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.”
Marilyn Jager Adams

Reading Aloud

Does your writing pass the read aloud test? I don’t pretend to know much about the craft of writing. I do know if I read a paragraph of my work out loud and it sounds confusing, boring or awkward to me, it’s going to sound exactly the same to someone else. If I’m gasping for air at the end of a sentence or stumbling over word combinations, it needs to be reworked. Hard to argue with yourself over a sentence that doesn’t flow or sounds cliché to your own ears.

I’m not suggesting reading aloud replace workshops, reference books, fellow writers and practice. That would be silly. Its one tool in the toolbox. I’m saying I need to take the time to listen to my own voice or how will I know what other people will be hearing? It can help establish the need for a pause or a break. Reading aloud offers the writer a chance to hear the rhythm of her/his words. If you are used to reading from the computer switch it up by printing off the pages and reading aloud from them. Costly but worth it if you’re struggling with a difficult passage. It allows you to hear the words you see.

I started out whispering even when home alone. I’m getting braver and louder but only with the door shut. I believe some critique groups encourage members to read their work aloud to the rest of the group. I’m sure it’s a valuable exercise - intimidating, but valuable.

And yes, I did read (whisper) this blog aloud while wrapped up in a blanket, nodding off and wondering when I can take my next dose of headache numbing, sinus draining medicine. I’m blaming any errors on my plugged ears. Maybe next week I’ll blog on procrastinating.

How comfortable are you reading your work out loud? Do you read your writing aloud to a critique group, a friend, your husband or the Jonathon Rhys Meyers picture taped to your wall? He’s very supportive (oops, possibly too much information).

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
Jorge Luis Borges


Nixy Valentine said...

I always read my MSs aloud. It's the absolute best way to catch things like repeated words, typos, and awkward phrasing.

Karen said...

Welcome Nixy Valentine,
I am quickly coming to the same conclusion. I'm still learning how to fix the things that sound 'off' but I hope half the battle is recognizing the problems. And I need all the proofreading help I can get.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Excellent post, Karen. Yes, over the past several months, I've been reading my work aloud more than ever before. And, when I'm working on a deadline, I'll even secretly read aloud while the others are in room. I discovered this method years ago but didn't employ it until now.

You see, back in my military days, I was allowed to attend a court martial for no other reason than the higher brass wanted us to see what happened if you disobeyed orders or in this case, stole something. I found the process fascinating. But most of all, I couldn't take my eyes off the uniformed man who looked like he was wearing an oxygen mask. He just sat there but his eyes would move around the courtroom as each person spoke. It took a few minutes to figure out the soft rumble I heard was coming from him as he recorded everything that was being spoken. And here I'd expected to see one of those typing court recording machines.

So then, in the last few months as I found myself wanting to read passages out loud when the family was watching TV, I employed the same technique as that court recorder except I use my clothes. It's just a matter of pulling my t-shirt or jammie top or whatever I'm wearing up over my nose and then I read aloud. Of course I don't speak as loud as I normally would, but I still get a sense of the rhythm, etc and catch things I normally wouldn't just by reading it.

The same technique can be used by placing your open hand over your mouth, just under your nose. Your words bounce back at you instead of out into the room.

Janet C. said...

First off, I hope you're feeling better, Karen.

I don't usually read my passages aloud although I've heard many times that it's a good way to check flow (and the other problems Nixy Valentine mentioned). I think I may have to start.

And I really have no worries of reading out loud in my house. The Husband is already aware of my less than normal ways :)


Karen said...

Hey Anita,
Those are good suggestions. Last night as I set tapping away on my laptop at the kitchen table, I was reading aloud quietly to myself with my hand covering my mouth. Our family room is openly connected to the kitchen and the last thing I needed was a critique from a 14 yr old.

I meant to ask you this before, have you ever written a military romance?

Karen said...

LOL Janet,
I am feeling better, thanks. I'm going to do more reading aloud on my next six chapters, I wonder if you'll notice the difference? I'm also busy killing dialogue tags.

Jana Richards said...

Hey Karen,
Sorry to hear you've been sick. Keep warm and cozy. Only six more weeks of winter (or there abouts).

At my critique group here in Winnipeg, Lovers Knot, we read passages to each other at our montly meetings. Although it was rather intimidating at first, I find I always discover something about my work that I didn't pick up on previously. Last month, I was reading my Saskatoon story, which is set in 1943. The hero is a British airman. At one point the heroine pushes him and he says "Hey, what did you do that for?" and as I was reading it I thought, that doesn't sound very British. Sure enough, my friend Rhonda said "That doesn't sound like something a British guy would say in 1943." Busted.

You really do get a sense of whether the words flow nicely or if your sentences are too long or too short. I think it's a very worthwhile thing to do.


Karen said...

Hi Jana,
The one good thing about February is that it ends. Eventually. I hope.

You are very brave! It does help when you listen with your ears and not your eyes. I not sure I'm ready to my work aloud to others but I can understand the benefits.

I like the name of your group.

Suse said...

Hi Karen, your post is a good reminder for me. I have read my writing out loud off and on, but never on a consistent basis. Yet I always make my students read their papers out loud to me so we both can hear when a sentence doesn't work. Quite often the student will pick out the problem before I can say anything.

One thing I have noticed students do, and I know I have done it as well, is read words that I think I've written but actually forgot to type in. The mind quite often fills in missing words.

Another method of proofreading I suggest to students (and this doesn't require reading out loud) is to read their writing backwards. This way you are reading each individual word rather than reading sentences. Quite often when you do this you find words that are not correct. For example, you might think you've typed in "vegetarian" but you've typed (or the auto correct feature has changed it to) "veterinarian." When you're reading individual words, you'll recognize that your story had nothing to do with a vet.

Karen said...

Hey Suse,
Reading your work backwards is a really great idea. I'm going to use it because, as I mentioned earlier, I need proofreading help.

Thanks for the continued great suggestions.

Anita Mae Draper said...

No Karen, I haven't written a military romance. Yet. I'm sure I will some day but I have too many other ideas floating around first. But, thanks for asking. :)