Writing

Why Reading Aloud Is the Best Editing Tool

Cats can be good listeners, until they fall asleep
Cats can be good listeners, until they fall asleep

I’m in the final stages of editing a manuscript. Today I read the book aloud. It took a long time. Doing it such a pain — it sounds strange to hear your voice after sitting for so long in silence, and it’s physically arduous — but my gosh, is it revealing. I find all sorts of mistakes and clumsiness. And I find the strong sentences too. But mostly the flawed. That’s why reading aloud is the best editing tool. I highly recommend it for any writer, fiction or nonfiction. Here are the things I discover when I do it.

 

Repeating words or gestures

I read aloud and hear that my protagonist shifted in his seat twice in the space of a page. I used “against” twice in a paragraph. Ehh! Buzzer.

Clunky grammar

Phrases like “had to be heard at” or “being uncomfortable with what was” or whatever I may write that ends up sounding like a Sarah Palin spoof.

Overused or too many metaphors

Did I just compare that woman to a weasel and then a sentence later her hat to a fox? Is that man’s round face like the moon? Baaad… remove.

Long sentences

Do I need both “vivid” and “green” to describe the field. Should I say “cramped” forest or is a forest by its nature cramped? Kill the darling description. Tighten, tighten, until the rhythm is smooth.

Dialogue missteps

Didn’t my protagonist already tell his cousin, in a slightly different way, that he’s anxious to confront the villain? Yes, I wouldn’t have caught that had I been reading silently. And, do I really need so many attributions? “He said,” “she said,” etc. Probably not.

And lastly, and most importantly, what I learn from reading aloud is how the tension rises and falls. Where the slow spots are. And whether or not all of that works. If not, it’s sixteen steps backward and into reconfiguring plot scenes and internal sequels. Luckily, I worked those issues out earlier in the year and didn’t have to do that today. Whew.

One thing I don’t necessarily learn but think is a great benefit is hearing yourself tell the story, hearing your voice, how you project or don’t, how you simply articulate words, and how quickly you read. The delivery of the story to the outside reader is incredibly important, because after all, that’s what this whole endeavor is about.


For more writing advice, see my post, A Lesson From Neil Gaiman in How to Write Emotion.

Karen Hugg is a writer and gardener living in the Seattle area. She is a certified ornamental horticulturalist and Master Pruner. When not digging in the dirt, she writes. She's been published in various journals, anthologies, websites, and more. Her life is happily hectic but she's lucky to have a patient husband and sweet children. Her pets aren't bad either. To learn more, explore http://www.karenhugg.com.

2 Comments

  • Steven Capps

    This is a wonderful post! I have heard the reading aloud advice before, but I love that you have used examples of the things that you have caught. If you do not mind me asking, what is your current WIP about?

    • Karen

      It’s about a botanist who’s growing rare apple trees that can cure illness and the mysterious people trying to stop him. Thanks for the comment! Cheers.

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