Monday, August 9, 2010

Writing Tips: Writing Out Loud

I discovered the value of reading my creative fiction out loud only last year, when I gave an impromptu reading of some space monkey flash fiction (don’t ask) at a Relief Magazine event hosting author Michael Snyder. Listening to Mike read his stuff for 30 minutes was fun. Reading my own for three was terrifying and instructive. What I thought was a bullet-proof, zippy little piece, sounded leaden and clunky as I read it out loud. However, the punchline, which I thought was merely ok when I wrote it, provoked a big laugh. I quickly learned what didn’t work and what worked very well in that 500 word flash piece.

Science Fiction author Juliette Wade recently wrote about reading your work out loud as a quick, effective editing trick, a tool to improve your writing.
The first thing that reading aloud can do is give you some distance on what you've written. Sometimes you spend so much time going over and over the words on the screen that you know them by heart, and you stop being able to see problems that might be there. Reading aloud is one way to push that text away, and put it into a context where you can be more aware of what's actually there, rather than what you think/know is there from the million times you've run your eyes over it. Printing out the story and looking at it that way can have a similar effect, but does require more paper and ink!

The second thing that reading aloud can do for you is give you a sense of the rhythmic feel of your prose. As you go through, awkward spots will give you pause, or even cause your tongue to stumble. When this happens, it's a good idea to change what you've written - because if it makes you pause or stumble, chances are your readers will have the same problem.

Juliette goes on to write about how reading can be useful when designing character voices. I recommend reading the rest of her article about that process.

Writing, for me, is primarily an internal endeavor. I read inside my head, I think inside my head, and I write inside my head, a closed internal loop. I am most content when I escape to someplace where I can sit in front of a computer or laptop, put on some headphones, and be alone with the privacy and complexity of my half-formed thoughts. It is there that I begin to make sense of things and exert my will to wrest invention and beauty out of chaos.

But this very aspect of writing is both constructive and false because, by its very definition, it is two dimensional. Those insights that seemed so scintillating when crafted in my head crash to the ground with a dull thud when spoken out loud.

How often have you wrestled with a writing problem inside your head, spoken the problem out loud to a friend, and discovered the answer while speaking the question? It happens to me all the time. This is why I now tend to be pretty quick about bouncing ideas off people verbally whenever I can. The quick spoken sounding board works very well for me, both in my day job as a technical writer and in my creative writing after-hours.

Don’t wait for an audience. Make reading your work out loud a part of your writing toolkit for a quick, effective metric on your work-in-progress.
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