Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Case For Reading Your Writing Out Loud

In conversation you can use timing, a look, an inflection. But on the page all you have is commas, dashes, the amount of syllables in a word. When I write, I read everything out loud to get the right rhythm. --Fran Lebowitz

photo source: GeekPhilosopher
What I think I hear in my head when I'm writing is different than what my ears hear when I read my work aloud--something I was reminded of today. Whoa. It shouldn't have come as a surprise. In the writer's craft, reading your work aloud is a key revision technique. But I realize I've neglected the process. And sad to say, my work shows it. Some parts sound out of tune--and are missing rhythm.

Note to self: Read. Your. Work. Out. Loud.

The mind, you know, is a funny thing. In it, your scenes march by in great order--the inciting incident in the first chapter through the conflict, story arc and struggle of the middle, all the way to the climax, resolution and (hopefully) satisfying conclusion at the end. You can visualize it, like a band as it marches across the football field at half time. Awesome movie reel running.

But then you pick up a page, begin to read, and actually hear the words--and it's like the tuba player has run into the clarinet player who knocks over the drum major. And the whole things comes to a halt.

For example, I stumbled over a confusing word then an awkward sentence--and then a distracting alliteration. All on the first page. Clunk.

Les Edgerton, in Finding Your Voice, How to Put Personality in Your Writing, explains how rhythm is one of the elements that go into voice. Rhythm, he writes, " the drummer or the bass player of the voice 'quarter.' The timekeeper in your band...(So) Read your work aloud (to check for rhythm)."

Julia McCutchen, in an e-zine article (here) adds another key point: "Reading your work out loud will enable you to gain a clearer picture of whether your writing truly captures the essence of what you want to share with your readers." Joanna Penn at thecreativepenn says that reading your work out loud helps you find inconsistencies, improves dialogue, and gives you a sense of pacing. And Audrey Owen, at writershelper  says, "Read your work aloud. You will find awkward places or unclear references as soon as the words are out of your mouth."

So when we build a case for reading our work out loud, we see it helps with rhythm...essence... inconsistencies...dialogue...pace...voice. It also uncovers grammatical and spelling mistakes, repetitions, and awkward places.

Anything you care to add to the list?


  1. It's especially good to have someone else read it out loud too. I am definitely a rhythm person too. :O)

  2. I'm afraid to read my stuff out loud! I think that means I'm insecure about my writing. But for all the reasons you mentioned, I should do it!

  3. Yes this is important! It's time consuming but if you go chapter by chapter will serious breaks it can be done!

  4. I do like to read my work out loud. And I remember most of the time. ;) Great tip.

    I also need to check out that book.

  5. I rarely read my work out loud, but it is a great way to catch problems with the language. Maybe I'll start reading to my daughters again.

  6. I'm with Lydia - I'm still to scared to read my stuff out loud, I read it "out loud" in my head.

    These are great tips though, and I will make the leap soon!