Have you ever read your work out loud?
Long before you submit your work to your beta readers, before you assume that you’re done, before you start thinking about renting that billboard to advertise your latest literary genius, you should read your manuscript out loud.
Start at page one. Finish at “The End.” And listen. And keep a red pen handy to make notes.
I’m completely convinced that you’ll make a lot of notes. I’m convinced that you’ll hear far more errors than you’ll ever see. Reading aloud reveals everything.
This is why you should read your manuscript out loud:
You’ll hear words repeated. We all have writing habits that need to be broken. We may use “just” or “some” too many times. By reading aloud, you’ll be able to see patterns of filter words that need to be eliminated. Make a note in the margin, or highlight your offensive word so you can do a “find” and “replace” later.
You’ll have a better sense of the story’s pacing. When we are writing, we have everything going on in our heads. It may never occur to us that the interior monolog is too long or that exposition needs a trimming. By reading aloud, you may catch these things.
You’ll catch bad blocking. If you are reading aloud, you may be better in tune with what is happening in the scene. This new, fresher, multi-sensory experience may reveal some errors or inconsistencies that need correcting. Fix them now. They can embarrass you later.
Need help? As a fan to sit and listen to you. Record your reading. Put on a play.
You’ll hear the clunkiness of poorly written sentences. Passive voice, for example, is more offensive to the ear than to the eye. If you’re reading aloud, you may come across a sentence that doesn’t sound right. Maybe it needs a rearranging. Or cut them out entirely.
You may notice unnecessary character ticks. Do your characters “sigh” or “smile” or “roll their eyes?” If you read your manuscript aloud, you may see how often they do this. These aren’t necessary. If it is so important that your character reacts, come up with a less predictable way to express it.
You may find spelling mistakes that spellcheck won’t notice. There is a magical process going on in our brains when we read aloud. We experience a cognitive hey day when our brain, mouth, and eyes are all stimulated at once. I think, and I say this without being a neurosurgeon, that this makes us more alert. This is helpful with those pesky homophones. Have a red pencil ready and mark all you see.
You may hear inconsistencies in the dialogue. In your novel, you want each of your characters to have a distinct sound. You won’t know if you’ve really pulled this off until you hear your characters come to life. Act your characters, don’t just read their lines, and see if you need to strengthen dialogue.
This is going to take time. So get comfortable, get a big glass of tea (or whiskey if the book is really bad) and start talking to yourself.
Your manuscript will be all the better for it.
Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.