Saturday, October 25, 2008

Read it Out Loud

I think for many writers, we forget to use one of our senses when we write - hearing.

We get so caught up in the moment when we are writing. We make sure that the story has all of the details, we make sure that we have described it the right way or filled in all of the details about the plot but forgot how the story sounds. This is actually a fairly normal occurance but one that can (and should be remedied).

I was just reading some synopses that had come across my desk and noticed the same trend. The material was all there, and, if read in small batches, sort of sounded fine. But, something in the reading just did not work. There was a sense of running fingers down a chalkboard (O.K. not that bad the but the simile seemed to work there). What it came down to was the fluency.

When we write, the material that we compose must sound as if someone is speaking to us. This is just as important in our stories as it is in the synopsis and query letter we write. Remember that a person is reading it and we do hear your voice come across in the writing.

So how do you fix this? Easy. Read it out loud. Better yet, have someone else read it out loud to you so that you can get a sense of the rhythm and the pacing of the story. Now, when you do this, take special notice of those grammatical street signs in your text. This would be the punctuation. At some level, over-stress the marks. Stop on a period, pause on a comma and so forth.

What I believe you will find is not so much the grammatical mistakes in the text but the structure of the sentences. You will hear a repetion of words that you missed. You will also sense (and want to change) the sentence lengths. Vary these some. Combine some sentences to make the movement of the text flow a bit more. Chop it up when you want to make a point.

Just use your other senses in your writing. I think you will amaze yourself.



  1. Dear Scott,
    So why are you up at 4:00 A.M. ? Baby crying? Sounds grim.
    Good post. For great dialogue in very few words I read Cormac Mc Carthy. He is a master at creating characters in only a phrase or even one or two words. If you saw "No Country For Old Men," that says it all about great dialogue for me. I have learned so much about dramatic structure & effective dialogue from films-always surprised this is never mentioned at the conferences. A very expensive medium, and the need to create great characters means the pressure is on. Another remarkable film is "Shoot The Moon" with Albert Finney and what's her name. Painful to watch, but just amazing to me in the way complex feelings in transition are portrayed. My own opinion is that much of women's fiction is bogged down in ENDLESS pages of descriptions of everyone's feelings. Please already! Cut to the chase. Watch what great directors do, and be open to their mastery in writing unforgettable people. "Das Boot" ! Another great film with almost no dialogue, which creates riveting people. Woof. Feel better now.It must be such a pleasure to leave such wonderful work behind you, when you go. I feel privileged to have seen their films. Over and over and over. Always something new to be dicovered in them.

  2. Nope, I was actually up getting through some submissions and a couple of critiques. Started at 3:30 actually.

  3. 3:30 ? That is definitely cruel and unusual punishment.
    I meant to mention that the article containing advice from Sara Gruen is in the February issue of The Writer, in the library,and blitzing seemed to have worked for her. Like the monkey at the piano who eventually plays a concerto perhaps, but who cares how one gets to the magic mountain ?
    I say again, writers need to become much more assertive in this market. Only the roaches will prevail, far as I can see.
    If I try AgentRsearch I will let everyone know how it seems to go. His wife, Beverly Swerling, writes meticulous historicals, and they simply have to know more than Clueless on the other side of the country.
    All but one mention of their service on the Internet has been positive. Up to date information seems critical, and I won't find it from here in this lifetime. $400 is nothing considering all the wasted time, especially when overwhelmed agents are saying it "will be a year, " before they can get back to you on material they WANT to see. Nobody's fault, just the way it is right now. Lead on, roach contingent. If I'm a fool, won't be the first time, and I can survive feeling very dumb. one more time in this life. Yo.
    Getting enough positive comment on the ms to plow on. What else is life for? Hope you get some sleep.

  4. I never thought about that very thing until I joined a local writing group. In the meetings, we bring excerpts and read them aloud for the critique part.

    The first time this happened, I about fell out of my chair, having never heard of such a thing, and not quite sure I wanted my manuscript read aloud.

    Especially when I heard my own grammatical mistakes that I would have never caught had I not read it aloud. :)

    Now, I use the same technique when I am having trouble with any scene and pacing. It's especially helpful with making dialog sound more believeable.