Monday, March 22, 2010

One Year, and Counting ...

It was almost three months ago that we celebrated the first anniversary of Prairie Chicks Write Romance. A few days ago I passed the one-year mark since my first post as a Chick. (I came on board, with two others, after the original five writers had launched this blog. Now there are nine of us posting our thoughts on writing, usually specific to romance writing but often applicable to writing in general.)

I looked through the posts I have written over the past year, and have chosen a topic that might be worth a second look ... especially in light of the contribution from our most recent guest blogger, Barbara Edwards, who provided an excellent outline on rewriting, particularly as an exercise in self-editing. Most of the comments from readers indicated intentions to save, copy, print out, or otherwise make use of her list of essential steps to follow in that all-important stage of finishing a manuscript.

Something that I consider important in the rewriting process is what I originally called Reading Aloud in a Small Room Behind Closed Doors. And why would I want to do that? Not just for peace and quiet, with fewer interruptions, although that is part of it. A small room provides potential for echo and resonance, where I can read what I have written and really hear how it sounds. Reading aloud is often listed as one of the steps in the self-editing process. Or call it revision, rewriting, just plain editing and fixing. However you refer to the process, reading your work aloud can help you reach your goal of a finished manuscript.

In addition to the practical aspects of hearing the written words, the connection between a work of fiction and the art of storytelling is closer than we might think. In most cultures, stories were handed down from one generation to the next without ever being written down. Oral traditions captivated the interest of groups of people sitting around campfires. In more recent centuries, families and friends gathered in formal drawing rooms to listen to readings from written texts. In both instances, the stories had to speak to the emotions through lively action, fascinating characters, dilemmas of plot, and a flow of narrative that was at the same time natural and dramatic.

We can test whether these conditions exist in our stories by reading them aloud, or alternatively, asking a friend with a good reading voice to read our work to us. Then we can hear how the words flow, or trip up the tongue. If a sentence is difficult to read aloud, then it will surely be an impediment to the silent reader as well. Awkwardness of expression, so jarring to the ear when stumbled over in its oral presentation, will also be troubling to the reader’s eye.

Reading aloud can reveal repetition of words and phrases more quickly than reading with the eye alone. Unintentional changes in point of view or tenses become obvious when spoken. Actually speaking the words of dialogue that we have put into the mouths of our characters can be mortifying when we realise that nobody uses that many words to communicate thoughts and feelings. When members of writing groups share their work by reading aloud, those following the text on the written page notice that sometimes the words that are being spoken are not identical to what was written. Of course not! Because often what was written did not flow naturally, or was not dynamic enough, or was too convoluted and should be cut short. Reading aloud will reveal whatever needs to be fixed.

Another benefit of reading your own work aloud is to hear the voice as it resonates against the walls. The small room with the door closed is not just to shut out the external world, but to keep the sound of your voice contained in a limited space. This goes beyond the normal concept of “voice” in writing to include the actual sound of the narrative, the dramatic tensions, and the emotions of both dialogue and interior monologues.

Finally, imagine how useful all those reading aloud sessions in your bathroom will be in the future. You will have developed a confident reading voice for all those invitations you will receive to give readings. Practice makes perfect!

You might also be interested in advice from Lisa Rector on how to make sure your manuscript is ready for submission. "The 11th Hour Checklist" which was also the title of a session I attended at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference last fall can be found on her website,The Third Draft.

Do you read your own work aloud? To yourself for self-editing, or do you belong to a writers’ group that uses this method for critiquing each other’s work? At what stage of the revision process do you find reading aloud the most helpful? Have you discovered other useful techniques for rewriting that you would like to share?

[I should tell you that I made some changes to what I wrote last August – shortened it, tried to make it flow better – in other words, did some rewriting!]


Karyn Good said...

Excellent post, Helena. After having to practice for our library reading I've become a big fan of reading aloud. I can't even describe how the amount of practicing out loud I did helped me edit. I was constantly 'fixing' as I went along for all the reasons you mentioned in your post.

I've also printed off the checklist from the link you included to keep handy as I rewrite.

susan said...

I enjoyed this article and I guess I forgot the nack of reading aloud since the kids are all grown up. It never dawn on me to read books that way anymore. Can see where rewriting is needed at times as well. Thanks for waking me up to something I forgot about. susan L.

Silver James said...

Helena, happy "birthday" to you and a great article. I always read my dialogue out loud, changing my voice to match the character (yay for all those years spent in speech, drama, and theatre!) but I have to admit, I don't normally read the narrative portions aloud. I'll have to add that to my final edit process. Thanks!

Helena said...

Hi, Karyn. I was thinking of our intrepid SRW readers when that line popped up from my 'old' post. I was sure you had done lots of practicing. So glad it paid off!

Lisa Rector's checklist, and her dynamic presentation at the conference which I wrote about in December, add another dimension to the whole revision and other final stages of manuscript preparation.

Good luck with your rewrite!

Helena said...

Nice to have you visit us on the Prairie, susan. And I'm glad I could suggest one more useful technique for your rewriting arsenal.

It is hard to find time to read aloud as a family in these busy times, but I've known some to do it. The older children enjoy doing some of the reading, so it can truly be a 'family activity.' Good opportunity for discussions, too.

Helena said...

Thank you, Silver. I don't where the time has gone, sure has flown by fast.

It's always such a pleasure to hear an author read with a dramatic flair. A reading can become a performance, with attention to those aspects you mentioned. Including the narrative in your reading aloud could be as dramatic (and revealing of the need to strengthen mood, tone, or backstory) -- think of the effect of voice-overs in film or TV.

Thanks for taking time in your busy schedule to stop by.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
Happy Anniversary! I can't believe how fast this year has flown by. Well done!

My critique group here in Winnipeg each reads a portion of their work aloud at our monthly meetings. It was unnerving to read aloud in front of other people when I first joined, but the benefits are great. As I said on Karyn's post last week, I am the Queen of repetition, but I find it difficult to see those repetitions. However, when reading aloud, my tongue trips all over them. Reading aloud will also help you find stuff that just sounds wrong. At the last meeting I was reading a bit of narrative about team penning, a kind of rodeo sport. I realized it sounded like a how-to manual for the sport. I have to go back and weave in this research through the dialogue.

Have a great day!

Janet said...

I need to sit down and read aloud - thanks for the reminder, Helena!

I'm off to check out the link :)

Helena said...

I know exactly how you felt, Jana. Two weeks ago I was reading a chapter to my group, and there was a lot of dialogue dealing with an emotional cross-generational situation. I kept muttering asides like, "That's in the wrong order ... she would have said that before ... this should be shorter ... too many words, etc. etc." It was painful, but it was a very early draft. Obviously, reading helped me to spot what didn't ring true.

I believe you were also the one to mention that because you can fix something on the page, the mandate of the writer is to get that first draft written. Then you will have something to fix, or more accurately, make better.

Thanks for your good wishes. It's been great to be associated with the original Chicks for a whole year!

Helena said...

Hey, Janet ... have you read any part of Lady Bells aloud? I have an image of you sitting on a rock near the edge of the sea, reading into the breeze, while Taz beachcombs along the shore.

(Not quite the small room with an echo that I was describing!)

Janet said...

No reading on the beach! Too many distractions like, ooh, shells, and rocks and drift wood :)

Forgot to say "Happy Anniversary" - we're very glad you're a part of The Chicks!!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Helena, I think this is a great idea. I have read dialogue out loud a few times and found it very helpful for all of the reasons you listed. I think I will extend the practice to the rest of the writing as well.


Helena said...

Hi, Joanne. I hope reading aloud continues to be a useful part of your revision process.

Do you belong to a critiquing group? Or do you work alone in your garret (or cave, as Anita calls her writing corner)? Whichever it is, reading aloud is a good idea.

Helena said...

Janet, I forgot about your penchant for collecting stuff on the beach. Maybe Taz could read to you!

You realize this is all because I envy you your seashore!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Helena, I'm very glad you did decide to join us as you've blessed us with your unique spin on things.

I'm in the middle of rewriting right now and yes, I do read it out loud. I catch more things when I read it out loud than when my eyes skim over it.

Excellent post. Thank you.

Yunaleska said...

Congratulations on being here a year!

Brilliant post. I don't read aloud - but I am going to from now on. It'll help pick up things that I miss reading off the screen.