Have you ever read your MSS out loud?
This is probably one of the strangest snippets of advice out there for budding writers, but although it sounds rather crazy, it’s one of the best tried and tested methods that do actually work. It helps writers find out just how good their novel is.
What does it do?
At editing and redrafting stage writers read through their manuscripts dozens and dozens of times and it’s very easy for the writer to become too involved or blinded to spot what would be considered mundane errors. Not only that, there is a tendency for writers to rush through the reading after the second or third draft (since they know the story so well) and so subtle, almost invisible errors are missed.
Instead of just silently reading and making edits, reading aloud allows the writer to become involved with the story on a different level – immediately it slows the writer down because they are forced to read every single word, every line and every paragraph.
Reading aloud helps the writer to ‘listen’ to the narrative and the description.
Immediately it will become clear whether the narrative flows smoothly, whether the pace is varied, whether it stutters or whether some words work or not. It will become clear whether there is too much description or lack of it. Some sentences look great when writing them, but reading aloud shows up those overly long sentences, or the complicated sentences that just don’t make much sense.
Also, the writer gets to understand if the flow of dialogue is okay, whether the characters are talking sense, and that it moves the story along. If there is something not quite right with the sentences, then it’s likely the reader will trip over clunky sentence structures or the boring, stilted dialogue.
Not only that, but long sections of narrative or description have a habit of boring the reader, so this is something that reading aloud will show up with certain clarity.
Because reading out loud forces the writer to slow down, it’s possible for the writer to not only notice how well the story reads, that it makes sense, but that it shows up the silly mistakes which are easily glossed over without realising, things such as missing words in sentences, which render the sentences awkward, missing punctuation or incorrectly spelled words that fool the brain into thinking they are correct, such as ‘teh’ instead of ‘the’.
It will be also be easier to spot words that are incorrect, but look or sound similar to the one you had in mind during writing, such as ‘too’ and ‘to’ or even ‘two’, or ‘plane’ and ‘plain’.
Why does it work?
Writing, but nature, is a silent task; silent in the sense that every word that passes through the writer’s mind and is translated to the screen is done in silence, so the entire story is never read in quite the same way a reader would. Even at editing stage, writers silently read to themselves. Not only that, but when a writer works on a novel, he or she becomes very close to both the story and the characters and it’s a universal truth that it’s very hard to separate objectively from the whole thing.
Reading aloud, however, allows the writer to move away from the persona of ‘writer’ and step into the shoes of the reader. It helps the writer develop their ability to ‘listen’ to the narrative. Reading it is one thing, but hearing it is another thing entirely. If a writer learns to listen to it, then he or she gains a better understanding of writing and they can therefore improve it.
Reading aloud is one of the best ways to properly read your book. It’s crazy at first, but it makes you think about how it truly sounds to a reader who simply wants to be swept away by your story. Moreover, it improves your authorial voice and ultimately helps you become a better writer.Next week: Trust your memories – how they help your writing