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Monday, September 6, 2010

Reading Out Loud: An Effective Editorial Tool

One of the best self-editing tips I can give is to read your manuscript out loud. It feels silly, I know, but the benefit outweighs the awkwardness.

The human mind compensates for errors. When reading, mistakes are missed because the brain anticipates patterns and corrects inconsistencies automatically. Reading out loud forces the reader to slow the rate, which helps identify errors.

Read the words inside the triangle below silently.

Did you spot the error? Your chance of spotting the duplicate "the" is higher if you read it out loud. This kind of mistake happens all the time in manuscripts, primarily because of cutting and pasting. It is the type of error for which the mind compensates.

Check this out:

Aoccdrnig to a rseearch sutdy at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny improamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.
Could you read that? I had no trouble. Amazing what our mind can do, huh?

For me, the biggest benefit to reading my manuscript out loud is spotting unnatural or rough sentences. The rhythm and inflection in my head is different than that of the spoken word. Things that seem natural, particularly in dialogue, often are stilted when read aloud.

I also recommend having someone else read the manuscript to you. Because the characters in one of my novels are teens, I had teens read it to me. Talk about a wake-up call to bad dialogue! Mercy.

I like this editorial tool so much, I read almost everything I write out loud now--manuscripts, letters, emails, blog posts... It not only helps me spot errors, it annoys my family! Who could ask for more? *wink*


Mary

14 comments:

Eric W. Trant said...

If and when you get published, you'll be asked to read your story aloud either at readings or maybe even on camera. Your publisher may want to post snippets on their facebook page or blog or youtube, or have you post snippets.

- Eric

Project Savior said...

I also find that reading it aloud while doing a Hayden Christensen from Star Wars imitation helps.
If I get into the characters while I'm reading it outloud I miss things. Imitating his flat readings of the lines helps me catch tons of errors.

Project Savior said...

I also find that reading it aloud while doing a Hayden Christensen from Star Wars imitation helps.
If I get into the characters while I'm reading it outloud I miss things. Imitating his flat readings of the lines helps me catch tons of errors.

Krista V. said...

Great advice, Mary. I never ceased to be amazed that what sounds good in my head often doesn't sound good in my mouth.

Jean Reidy said...

This is so true. And I have to add that repetitive reading aloud will often falsely "perfect" a manuscript. So it's also important line up fresh readers who will catch what your eye or your ear doesn't.

Anne R. Allen said...

This is excellent advice. (I had to read the blue triangle thing out loud to get it--made me feel dumb, but you sure made your point.) This is why I'm glad I belong to a critique group where we read our stuff out loud. I usually catch most of the problems as I'm reading--before anybody even critiques.

PaulaKayMac said...

Those examples were great. I'm in a face to face crit group so I know how helpful it is to read aloud, though I should do it more often. Thanks for the reminder.

Genevieve Graham-Sawchyn said...

SO true. Every time I'm asked how to edit, that's my first piece of advice - right after "Don't be afraid of red ink". :)

agatha82 said...

Great advice, which I do follow often and it really does work. However, the idea of having to read your own work outloud for an audience petrifies me as I stutter when nervous so that's one aspect of being an author I will try to avoid...eek

Erin Kane Spock said...

When my husband does agree to read my writing, he usually reads it out loud. Personally, I think it's he comprehends better through sound vs sight, but the result is that I get to hear an objective presentation. It takes a long time, but it's really helpful.

Cynthia Watson said...

So true! When I read my novel to my kids, I always have to stop & correct something I didn't see before - then they roll their eyes, as if to say, "Hurry up and get this over with, dude!"

Thanks Mary!

Elana Johnson said...

Great post! I still read most of my stuff out loud.

Danyelle said...

This is so true, Mary! It's amazing what slips through if you don't read it out loud. I have my laptop read to me, and that flat, weird, horrible voice really highlights anything flat, weird, or horrible in the novel. Great post!

Tara McClendon said...

I love that study. It is so true. I wonder how many words we could read in that study before our brains finally rebelled and said fix it!