Once upon a time there was: Reading Aloud to Edit

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to post again, dear blog followers and droppers by! I’ve been deep, deep into editing mode. One of the things I do as an agent is to read my clients’ manuscripts with an eye toward polishing them to a high sheen before submitting them to editors. I fix obvious problems and make a LOT of suggestions in the margins. And then I write an editorial letter and send it all back to the author.

A suggestion that I invariably end up making (well, 9 times out of 10) is that the author should either read the manuscript out loud or even better, have someone else read it out loud to them. I want them to get down to hearing just the words that are down on the paper. When you hear something read out loud, without inflection, you can hear if the words are doing their job. And when you listen to your own words, read by somebody else, you are more apt to hear where something isn’t working.

I invite all writers to do the same. Have someone read your work to you. Take a pad and write down when something isn’t working, when it sounds “off,” or inauthentic. Pretend they’re not your words. Ask yourself, as you listen, if your characters sound like themselves. They should sound the way you imagined them, even when someone else is reading them to you. Notice, as you listen, whether you’re bored or excited or worried or afraid or cracking up as you hear the words you’ve written.

How do you check whether your writing is working?


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11 responses to “Once upon a time there was: Reading Aloud to Edit

  1. Lorraine

    Thanks for the advice. I just finished my ms at exactly 3:50 pm yesterday-yay!!! I started reading it aloud, but I may have my husband read it to me instead. Thanks!!!

  2. I’ll print out a piece that I think is finished and read it upside down. Doing so does not allow my brain to even think I know what is coming next. It makes me slow down and not anticipate what I think I wrote. I’ve found it to be a great way to catch what doesn’t work as well as typos.

  3. I always read my work aloud and ask my students to do the same. I’ve never asked someone else to do it for m–love that! Thank you.

  4. Agreed! I think reading aloud (or reading words aloud in your head) is underrated. People are taught not to vocalize to read faster, but vocalizing some benefits, too.

  5. Yes! My husband is my “first hearer” rather than “beta reader.” 🙂 He’d rather listen than read, and I always find new line edits to do as I read to him.

  6. I agree. One of the things I love doing is reading my work—silently and out loud. There is a big difference when I read my manuscript out loud. I seem to catch things that may need changing quicker.

    One time I had my sister read a paragraph out loud of what I’d written and it was interesting to hear how she read it. Her interpretation was quite different from mine. But that’s the reality of it. When other people read our stories, they may read the dialogue with a different tone, for instance, compared to how we would have read it. But that’s okay. As long as they get the story and enjoy it.

  7. I am so happy you wrote this entry! This is something I advocate 100% and do almost nightly as I work on my m.s. (almost done).

    Until you hear the typed words read aloud, you cannot tell if the flow is right at all. My sister (also a writer) is the one who first advised me to do this, and it was wonderful advice.

    Fwiw, I recently read a NYT “best seller” a thriller (my genre, although my m.s. is a romantic thriller), and it had issues with flow. Serious issues. It was clear to me either the author (well-known) didn’t do this or his agent or editor didn’t either, because it just felt odd. That’s what happens when it’s not read aloud. It does not have the right feel at all and comes out imho flat.

    Thank you for sharing this much-needed tool with your readers. I am going to tweet this link b/c this is something every writer should do, if they aren’t already doing this!

  8. Thanks for the sound advice. I’m off to find a very patient reader. Preferably someone who isn’t too quick at running, as if they see me coming they’re sure to lose me. Chocolates may help!

  9. I’ve never thought to have someone else read my MS to me. That’s brilliant. Thanks.