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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Was Blind But Now I See-- Text-to-Voice: An Underappreciated Editing Tool

So, we've already discussed the value of reading your work aloud during the editing process. This works amazingly well, especially for a specific scene or passage at a time. But, if you're planning a full head-to-toenails edit, you're gonna need an awful lot of tea and honey to read a full manuscript out loud.

Now, maybe some of you have spouses and/or BFF's lining up for the chance to read your novel to you, but for most of us editing is a pretty solitary endeavor.

If only there was someone else... someone who could read forever without getting hoarse or grumpy when you make them repeat the same sentence thirty-eight times in a row...

Well, if you have a fairly recent computer, chances are you do have access to such a person. Okay, fine, you have access to a robotic equivalent of a person, but still an amazing resource.

I'm talking about Text-to-Voice software.

I had heard that text-to-voice software was included on most recent PC’s (They are intended to assist users with visual impairments), but I’d never bothered looking up how to use it until a few months ago.

I find reading aloud to be a great editing tool, but impractical for completing a full edit at my (relatively high speed) pace. I have also noticed that when I read aloud from my manuscript, I sometimes still miss problems like missing or repeated words because I know what the text is supposed to say and my brain corrects the errors without my noticing.

I wanted something that would read my text to me, so I looked up where to find the preinstalled software. And there she was… Microsoft Anna, my robotic girl-crush, hiding under “Ease of Access” in my “Accessories” folder.

Together, Anna and I obsessed over each word of The Edge of Memory before I submitted my manuscript. Despite frequent careful editing by myself and hundreds of beta readers, I still found a few small typos. I’ve also found a few overuse quirks, like my apparent fondness for starting dialogue lines with “Well,” which each of my characters indulged to some extent until Anna and I were finished with them.

Now, granted... Microsoft Anna (or her predecessor, Microsoft Sam, and her Mac equivalent) is no Laurence Olivier. Her pronunciations and inflections aren't perfect (You can hear an example of Microsoft Anna's speech here.) but sometimes that can actually help you look at your prose in a different light.

So, if you haven't already, I suggest taking your resident Narrator for a test spin. You can even download other voices if you prefer.

Anyone else smitten with their computer Narrators? Thoughts on voice preferences? Anyone familiar with the Mac version? (I'm a PC gal.) Please chime in below in the comments!


H. L. Dyer, M.D. writes women's fiction and works as the Clinical and Academic Director for the Hospitalist Program at a pediatric teaching hospital near Chicago. In addition to all things literary, she enjoys experimental cooking and composing impromptu parodies to annoy close friends and family. Click to visit her personal blog, Trying to Do the Write Thing.

24 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Cool! I like reading mine ms out loud, but find sometimes I read things that aren't even on the page. They were edited out previously, but were still programmed in my head. So naturally this means I can't record my own voice, which I'd rather not hear anyway. Great suggestion, Heather. I can't wait to try it out.

Suzette Saxton said...

Thank you! I have always wanted to know how to do this. Looks like Sam and I have a date! ;)

Kristi said...

What great timing - I finished my ms and wanted to read through it while waiting on my beta readers. I have both a PC and a Mac so I'll see what I find on both. What I've noticed in my first 50 pages is the same tendency you did regarding characters starting dialogue with "Well," Thanks for this info. :)

ElanaJ said...

I do this too! In fact, I'm doing it this week. On a Mac, it's under System Preferences > Speech. You can choose the voice (I like Vicki). Then simply select the text, hit apple+H (that's what I set mine to. You can set the command key to whatever you want. I did H for "hear") and listen! It's fab.

Great post, Heather!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Darn it. It won't work. It only works when I type. Like now!!!! Okay, I have to turn her off. She's getting annoying.

Christauna said...

Awesome post. I was inspired to hunt the web for free voice to text software. It only took me about 30 seconds and now I'm listening to the rather monotone voice of Heather. It's interesting to hear it read in a voice other than mine. I read somewhere that if you're a good enough reader, you can make the worst sentence almost sound good. Well this is not great reading so if an awful sentence it will sound even worse with a voice like this. I'm rather enjoying being read to. Thanks for the heads up.

brimfire said...

@Stina Mine didn't work either. I had it in Microsoft Word and the voice kept getting stuck reading the menus. I cut and paste my wip into notepad. Now, it's working. You might try it. :-)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Thanks brimfire. That worked. I was getting depressed. Even Anna was rejecting me. ;-)

paulgreci said...

This sounds interesting. I've experienced losing my voice, missing mistakes because I've read it so many times, and being frustrated by how long it takes to get through the whole ms.

And, as Christauna implied, if you are a good reader you can make most anything sound interesting. (I used to do this when I was a teacher.)

So, when I read my work outloud I try to do it in a very monotone-way.

Rebecca Knight said...

This is one of those tricks I never would have thought of! :) Bless you!

Nisa said...

I've never heard of this, but I'm excited to check it out! Thanks for the tip!

H. L. Dyer said...

Ah, excellent point, Brimfire... microsoft word has too much formatting and menus and whatnot for the TTV software to work properly.

I did my edits in Wordpad. Notepad works great, too. =)

CricketB said...

I like Cepstral for text to speech. Free to try, many voices. Reasonable price per voice. Every few sentences it nags you until you pay, which is annoying for a full story, but good for trying the different voices.

It works best if you save your story as a text file, then open the file in Cepstral. You can also do minor editing in Cepstral, then save back to text.

You can also have it save a sound file, not sure if it's MP3 or WAV, which you can then play back on an iPod or other small device. Great for walks. I found the "live" reading a bit glitchy, so prefer to convert it to a sound file first.

Lily Robinson said...

Fantastic! This is such a great idea, I posted a blog directly my followers to this post. If I don't have it built it, I'm going to get it!

SkyWord said...

A person I am editing a book for has been listening to his Microsoft Word manuscript in his Kindle. He likes it and finds it helpful.

Jeanne Tomlin said...

I prefer yReader which works very well for this purpose (and is free). It is a great way to edit.

Suzette Saxton said...

My teenager just taught me that from your computer's control panel you can speed up or slow down the voice in Word. From there I can also choose different readers: Michelle, Michael, or Sam.

Marva said...

I have mentioned a zillion (or slightly less) times that Adobe Acrobat has a Read feature. Most later versions of Word allow you to publish to PDF, then you can have your work read aloud to you. If your Word doesn't output the right PDF for the read feature, then get a free download of Open Office.

There is ZERO reason to purchase any other tools for this purpose.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wow, thanks, Marva. That's much easier.

abrokenlaptop said...

What a fantastic idea! I literally gasped as I read this. My voice is saved!

I also know that we have text-to-speech because my husband has the computer read me sweet love notes.

...I know. He's a geek, but I love him! :)

-Mercedes

Ryan said...

I've got microsoft sam on my comp, but he didn't come with the comp. I love the text-to-speech software though, especially for the polish after each draft.

Jeanne Tomlin said...

The reason I don't use PDF is that I can't make changes in it and save them as you can with some other ways of doing the same--many of which are free.

I do agree that there is no reason to pay for it when you can get it free although many of the free ones limit your choice of voices, so that's another consideration. If you don't mind paying for a wider selection of voices I've heard that Cepstral works well although I'm not sure if you can save changes while working in it.

CricketB said...

Yes, Cepstral will save your changes as a boring text file.

Well-worth trying the free demos first.

Kristal Shaff said...

I use flame Reader. They have a ten day trial, I think, but I did go ahead and buy the software. The version I bought came with a natural voice, which sounds a little less robotic and it also has a pronunciation editor, which really comes in handy with fantasy names and places.