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!]