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 my manuscript. And today I read the book aloud. Reading aloud is such a pain — it sounds strange to hear your voice after sitting for so long in silence, and it’s physically arduous — but boy, is it helpful. Here’s what I find 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. How you articulate. How quickly you read. How you deliver the story to the outside world is incredibly important, because after all, that’s what this whole endeavor is about.

2 thoughts on “Why Reading Aloud Is the Best Editing Tool

  1. 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?


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