Reading aloud is a great way to quickly discover the places I want to revise. I have always read portions of my work aloud, a page or two at a time. The places where I stumble are usually always the places that need ironing, so to speak.
In the past, I have only gone to this trouble with sections that I felt had some indefinable thing wrong with them. But lately, I’ve been printing out each chapter in its entirety a day or two after I finish writing it, trying to hear where the prose doesn’t work. I use a yellow highlighter on the places that feel rough.
I’m a slow writer, but I have several looming deadlines for contests and anthologies. This seemed like a good way to speed up development, getting short stories from rough draft to finished in a timely fashion.
As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I rarely have a piece that is perfectly clean. I am the only eye that sees it before posting. Despite my best efforts, I catch many things the day after something was posted. I always check through my work on the computer screen, and I catch a lot there, but the eye sees what I intended to write.
This bleeds over into my other work. But if I wait a day or two and then read the paper printout with fresher eyes, I find repeated words, dropped words, and all sorts of typos. Even better, reading the printout aloud exposes the rough areas, the places where the words “fight with each other.”
When you are trying to pronounce the words, run-on sentences really stand out, and clunky prose won’t flow well. The narrative reads well for a long stretch, and then it hits a stumbling point.
That yellow highlighter of mine really gets a work out—maybe I’ll have to buy a case of them.
Another thing I have discovered by reading the entire chapter rather than just a page here and there—I can see where I am repeating entire ideas. This is a common problem for me in the first draft.
Having Natural Reader or another reading program do the reading for you helps, and I have made use of that many times. But this experience has shown me that while these wonderful programs are incredibly useful, they don’t do the job quite as well as a human voice does. They often mispronounce words that are ‘heteronyms’—words that are spelled the same as another word, but which are pronounced differently and have different meanings.
- Read (pronounced reed) as in the act of reading
- Read (pronounced red) as in having already finished reading the book.
Natural Reader rarely guesses those sorts of words correctly. The cadence and rhythm of the narrative is not as clearly heard when the mechanical voice does the reading, even if you are reading along silently. It tends to be rather flat, a monotone.
I’m not talking poetry here, but good prose has movement when it is read out loud. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes slow, but it should have no rough spots for the reader to stumble over.
What I love about listening to audio books is the way prose sounds when it’s read aloud by an experienced narrator. Some narratives are beautiful when read aloud, and some are not.
If you intend to have your work made into an audio book, you want to make your work easy for the narrator to read without faltering.
So, now I will add ‘printing out and reading entire chapters aloud and marking places that need correction with a yellow highlighter’ as a regular tool in my writer’s toolbox. As long as the old printer keeps limping along, doing its job, this should speed things up.