The Value of Reading Your Book Aloud

At long last your book is finished. It’s been revised and revamped, you’ve sought the best feedback you can find, and the manuscript has been polished and edited within an inch of its life. May I suggest one more step before you go out looking for an agent or a market? Read the whole book … out loud. You’re probably thinking “That will take forever.”  It will, and that’s the point. 

Kim is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Ester won.)

 

     


Kim Wright‘s debut novel Love in Mid Air (March 2010)
received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
Kim has been writing about travel, food, and wine
for more than 25 years and is a two-time recipient
of the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Writing.
See her website here.

 

If you believe you have a book that’s anywhere near ready to go to market, you’ve undoubtedly taken it through multiple drafts and somewhere along the way you’ve probably numbed out to the prose. It can be very hard to read our own words analytically….we know all too well what’s coming next, so we start to skim. We’re flipping the pages so fast that we don’t catch small issues like typos or larger ones like plot improbabilities.

Reading out loud slows you down. It allows you to approach each page as if someone else had written it. Tics in the writing begin to leap out at you – awkward phrasing, run-on on choppy sentences, a tendency to repeat the same word over and over.

When I first read the draft of my novel aloud I was appalled by how often I used the word “surprise.” I did a word search and found that not only did some variation of the word “surprise” appear 16 times in the manuscript, but that I seemed to have a special penchant for the term “somewhat surprisingly.” Second place went to “suddenly,” which was in there 11 times. Well, that it explained it. No wonder people in my book were always so surprised. Things were happening very suddenly!

Fortunately, the process of reading my book aloud alerted me to my embarrassing over-reliance on these words before I sent the book out. A friend who reads her chapters aloud too realized she has a tendency toward long, rambling sentences. This is not especially um, er … unexpected, because she’s a Southern writer and Southerners, even Southern characters in novels, tend to ramble on. But when she started reading her dialogue out loud, she found she couldn’t even get through certain lines without gasping for air. Lesson learned. If it’s difficult to say, it’s probably annoying to read.

If you find the idea of an out-loud read through too daunting, some writers swear that they can look at their work through fresh eyes simply by printing it in a bizarre font. So if you’re used to something serviceable and plain like Times New Roman, run a chapter out in Batik or Matisse and see if it reads differently to you.

Kim is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Ester won.)

How much can you accomplish in 30 days?
Book in a Month can help you get that
first draft down on paper.

 

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21 thoughts on “The Value of Reading Your Book Aloud

  1. Heather Morgan

    Always a good reminder – thanks for sharing. Another technique I find helpful when looking for missing words, typos, etc. is to read the piece (out loud, of course!) starting with the last sentence – that helps prevent the "I know what it’s supposed to say next, so that’s what my eyes see" issue!

  2. Folake Taylor

    I would love to read Kim’s book. True. One of the critique groups I belong to has members read out loud. I also have my Kindle read to me. It helps catch some new problems with sentence contruction or errors that were glossed over while reading.

  3. Tim S.

    True enough. Reading out loud and reading in your head are two completely different experiences. It’s fun to see the difference when you read someone else’s work in your head and then out loud. 🙂

  4. Dave Gourdoux

    This is fantastic advice and it really works. I accidently stumbled upon this technique after joining a local writers group, where every month we read excerpts of our work to each other. Having Parkinson’s disease, my voice is at best uneven, and I became so self-conscious of my inability to coherently articulate what I had written, I started rehearsing at home, into a little hand held recorder. My intent was therapy to address some of for my physical limitations. Quickly I found redundant words and phrasings that I had routinely missed in the countless times I had gone over the work before. Now, after I am reasonably satisfied with any piece I’ve been working on, out comes the recorder, whether I intend to share it with my writers group or not. I still hate the sound of my own voice and what Parkinson’s has done to my speech patterns, but hearing my words spoken has been the most effective method of catching the flaws that my eyes become blinded to.

  5. Rae Whitney

    KW – Thanks for the blog post. Why just the other day I was reading aloud a short story and alas, there were parts that just didn’t flow and/or the wording was a tad off. It DOES pay off to read it aloud. Great to know and apply. RW~

  6. Diva Jefferson

    Kim, this advice is wonderful for writers everywhere. Reading out loud not only brings your characters to life, but helps to strengthen dialogue and structure. It’s like acting out a movie or a play. If something doesn’t make sense, then rework it or delete. Thank you for this article. I will share it! 🙂

  7. Ester

    Thank you so much for this informative article. In my critique group we read our work out loud, which was great for detecting anything repetitious. What I’ve found to be more invaluable is the "speech" application in my MAC computer. It will read back anything I’ve highlighted, and has helped me more than hearing my own voice read the text. I just love it! I use it regularly, and it never lets me down.
    The "speech" application is freely available online, if it isn’t already installed in your computer.

  8. Tara Fort

    I am an editor, and I always make it a point to tell my writers that I use the "read aloud" tool when editing their work. It makes such a difference in sentence structure, pauses, dialogue and repetition. I am going to share this article with many! Thanks!

  9. J.M. Lacey

    I’m glad Ms. Wright pointed this out. Whenever I proofread anything, in the final phases, I read my work aloud. When I did this for my novel, yes it took some time, but not only did I catch multiple words as the author had done, but I discovered other areas for improvement, such as providing better descriptions. You catch more errors when you’re forced to focus by reading out loud. Thanks!

  10. Lara

    I was always a fan of reading things aloud to help me retain them for exams (or whatever other reason) even way back in college. Reading to aid in being a better writer is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best ideas ever. I do this when proofing articles and short stories, but hadn’t really thought about it in terms of my novel. Although I’m nowhere near the "read aloud" stage yet, I will definitely plan to do that before I start sending it out anywhere!

  11. Ardenna

    Reading out loud gives one an opportunity to read one’s thoughts outloud. I will definately do this as I am reading the chapters for the book I am writing! Finding various synonyms for words is key! There are a couple of words that I use a little too much also. I will definately do a find and search in word to see how many times I use the same stuff over and over! thank you!

  12. Andrea

    I did this recently for my entire MG novel and I was surprised how many changes I made. A lot of times a word or phrase that sounded right when I wrote the story sounded different when I read it out loud. It definitely gave me a different perspective on my writing.

  13. Karen Greenberg

    I agree that reading your work out loud is a great idea. Just last night I was reading my husband one of the short stories I had written and posted on my blog. I was really embarrassed by how many errors there were, and that I had published it the way it was! I must have been really tired the night I "proofread" the original story, because it just didn’t seem like me to miss so many mistakes. Now I know for when I "really" publish my work that I want to read it out loud so I can be sure it is coming across the way I want it to.

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