In seventh grade, I had to read something out loud in a class. I hated it because I was never good at reading out loud.
Shortly after the difficult slog through whatever I was reading, I was given two IQ tests. It was determined that I was intelligent enough; the problem was that I was [and still am] dyslexic.
Off to two years of learning disability classes for me! (As if I needed more reasons for people to pick on me–now I was, in the words of classmates, regularly attending “retard classes.”)
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I did a very good job being the invisible kid in most of my high school classes. When it came time to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, my English teacher thought it would be great if we all picked a character and read the play out loud. Not knowing a thing about the play, I figured a guy named Brutus couldn’t have more of a part than perhaps somebody’s sidekick, or maybe even a servant.
It wasn’t bad enough that I accidentally picked the major character to read out loud; my friends, knowing I had difficulty reading out loud, made noises and poked me with pencils to distract me each time I read to make it even harder.
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While I have a writing group with a couple friends, I attended a friend’s writing group one time. Instead of reading everybody’s stories prior to the meeting (like my current writing group), they read them on spot–out loud and in the round, with everybody taking a turn reading a page from everybody’s stories.
Being in a room full of programmers, librarians, and teachers — forced to read out loud — made me more nervous than I’ve ever been while getting up before a group and talking. To make matters worse, my friend’s nine-year-old super-genius of a son sat in, and read out loud better than me.
Still, it was really something else being forced to read my stuff out loud in front of others, and even more of a rush to hear others read my work.
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I’ve always heard people talk about reading their stories out loud as part of their revision process. I’ve heard people say that reading their stories out loud forces them to really focus on strings of words that are easy to look over when reading in their heads.
I recently started podcasting my first novel. I made a tough decision: I decided to read the novel myself, despite the difficulties I have reading out loud. Instead of reading to an isolated classroom in a tiny high school English class in Texas, I’m putting my reading skills out there for anybody with an Internet connection to hear.
And I don’t hate it.
More than that–I finally get what others have mentioned for as long as I’ve been writing: reading your work out loud makes your writing better.
When I hear it, certain lines sound as hokey as anything spoken in a B-movie. Little actions combined with dialogue sounds forced and get in the way of the flow. And…I hear things I’ve written that sound even better when read out loud than they’ve ever sounded in my head!
There comes a time when every writer hopes to be successful enough that they have to read something they wrote out loud. Why not get a jump practicing for that day by reading your writing out loud as you revise?
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I can’t find it right now, but Daryl Gregory wrote a blog entry about how he prepares for live readings. It’s good stuff, just like the rest of his blog…so you should go read everything until you stumble upon it…
[Edited to add: Okay, what I was looking for was on the wrong blog. Read about how Daryl prepares for a reading here and here.]
Cynthia Griffith says
It never dawned on me until just now, but sometimes when I’m even doing something as simple as replying to someone, and I want to make sure my intent/tone/whatever comes through correctly, I find myself reading out loud.
I think it makes perfect sense to read at least some sections out loud when you’re editing or working on writing.
I always chuckle at your Brutus story. Poor guy 🙂 I don’t like reading out loud, either.
Christopher Gronlund says
I always figured there was something to reading out loud and the way we register things. I know people joke about people who move their lips when they read, but I’ve known some smart people who mutter to themselves when they read.
For me, since reading out loud was always difficult, it’s not something I ever tried. It was only when starting to read Hell Comes With Wood Paneled Doors that is clicked: “Hey, this reading out loud stuff…there’s something to it!” 🙂
Lisa Eckstein says
I listened to the first podcast yesterday (great opening! can’t wait for more!), and I never would have guessed you’re dyslexic and have trouble reading aloud. Your reading sounds so calm and practiced.
Did you read the chapter aloud prior to recording it? Did you make any edits based on the stuff you didn’t like the sound of, or have you made a decision that this novel doesn’t get any more tinkering?
I read my work aloud a lot, mostly to myself but occasionally to a very trusted audience, and hearing how it sounds is always a huge help.
You’ve come a long way from that pencil-poked Brutus. You had so many comments on what a nice voice you have when folks listened to “HCWWPD”.
Christopher Gronlund says
Lisa: Thanks for listening to the first chapter–glad you enjoyed it!
I’ve tried reading out loud more in recent years, so I’m not quite as bad as I used to be, but if I had to do a live reading, I’d have to do a lot of practicing. I don’t read the chapter before I start recording–I just jump in. I flub a lot of lines; when I do, I stop and let some silence record and then read the line again until it’s right. At most, I can get about a minute without stumbling. (I wish I could read it the whole way through–it would make the editing process much easier.)
I’ve made the decision that there’s no more tinkering with this novel. I may change that as I go along, and if there’s time. It was the first time I ever wrote something at novel length, and it’s been awhile. I’m sure there will be parts I want to tighten, but the plan is to read it as-is.
You’re definitely right: hearing your work read out loud is a big help. When I read silently, I try reading at the same pace I’d read if I were reading out loud. Even still, since we can all read much faster in our heads, it’s easy to zip over parts of a manuscript that don’t sound awkward until read out loud.
I’m a technical editor and writer, and I plan to start reading even technical documents out loud.
The second chapter of Hell Comes With Wood Paneled Doors will be up Sunday–hope it sounds good!
Christopher Gronlund says
Mary: I know my voice sounds different; it’s always struck me as kind of sleepy. Even when I try inflection and other sounds, it all kind of runs together because I don’t have a lot of range.
But I’m finally okay with that, and think my voice works for HCWWPD.
I look forward to reading some more serious short stories and seeing how I like my voice then.
One thing I’ve noticed from listening to audiobooks while working out: I like hearing a little edge in a voice. I’m currently listening to an audiobook that is very well read, but the narrator is almost too perfect! In ways, that takes something from the reading.