Thursday, February 16, 2012

Reading aloud as an editing tool

It's my birthday today. And for my birthday, Chuck Wendig gave me a present (not that he knows that, unless he does a trackback to this entry). He was tweeting writing advice, and one of the pieces of advice was something I'd been meaning to blog about.
There is no better way to tell if the language works or not than reading something aloud. When your eyes are traveling over the words you've written, you will "hear" them in your head the way they were meant to sound. When you're reading them aloud, though, it slows you down. If you have an awkward construction, your tongue will twist as you stumble over the words. If you're meant to have a fast-paced section but you're forced to read slowly, you'll know by how slowly you're reading. If you have a word in there that kills the flow of the sentence, you'll trip over it, and know it needs replacing with something that fits.
"Where are you going? Don't you want to hear what
happens in draft five?"

It's even better if you can read it aloud to someone else. My ex was great for this, because he liked the little tidbits I fed him as I went along, and he asked good questions. One of the members of the writing group has requested reading our critique pieces aloud to the group before the crit begins, for the same reason.

It can be just as effective to read it to yourself, though that might be harder to do. Chances are good the patrons of your local Panera won't appreciate story time. To that end, you may need to print out your story or download it to your ereader (if you have one), and go somewhere else to read your story aloud. I recommend doing this, anyway, because looking at the words in a different way detaches you from them. Reducing your relationship to the words makes it easier to cut them or change them. Nothing is harder than editing out passages at a time when you feel like every single word is sheer brilliance. Some of my most effective editing was accomplished with a red pen on printed pages.

Besides, reading words on a glowing screen is harder on the eyes. You're less likely to catch mistakes if you're skipping over it as fast as possible so you can make the burning stop.

In short: read your stuff aloud when you're editing, and listen to how it sounds. I won't hurt you if you don't; you'll only hurt yourself.

Incidentally, if you're reading my blog for writing advice but not Chuck Wendig's, you're probably doing it backwards. His stuff is funny, irreverent, and brilliant. I don't always agree with everything he writes, but I do find it entertaining. You may not want to read his blog at work, though: there's swearing.

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