Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Reading Aloud For Revision

This Valentine's Day I had the opportunity to participate in a live cyber reading at the Savvy Author's webinar, Digicon--the ePublishing Revolution: I had about 10 minutes to introduce myself and share a scene, so I decided to go with the first pages of my latest novel, One Thousand Kisses ( After all, we perfect the beginnings of our books to lure in readers. What better lines to lure in listeners?

I'll be the first to admit I haven't done much "professional" reading aloud since I was in graduate school for poetry, a totally different genre than romance fiction. The experience of writing it is completely different; the experience of reading it to yourself is completely different; and the experience of reading it aloud and listening to it is completely different. Sure, I read to my kids and occasionally in a critique group; I also read aloud some when I was teaching college English (clearly not my own work). But as I discovered, reading your romance fiction aloud is pretty different from reading poetry or kid's books, and I think I know why.

I write my romance fiction to be read to one's self, not to be performed.

One thing I've noticed about being read to -- it's easier (for me) to listen to kid's books and middle grade or young adult fiction, whether they are audio books or my dear husband doing his bedtimely duties with the Diary of the Wimpy Kid. The Harry Potter series is well-known for being an awesome listen, in no small part due to Jim Dale, the narrator, but also due to Rowling's genre and writing style.

Maybe it's easier for me because I have a short attention span, but I think it has more to do with writing quirks that make a story easier to follow, particularly when your narrator (for instance, ME) has no business doing "voices". That, I found, was one of my biggest hurdles in reading aloud. As such, it might affect things disproportionately if I were to use reading aloud as part of the revision process. From a read-aloud guide I found at this website (, I would have to agree with this statement: "Dialogue can be difficult in reading a novel aloud; if you must read a book heavy with dialogue, be sure that it’s clear who is speaking. Many books with a lot of dialogue use indentation to show who’s speaking, which is impossible for the listeners to follow."

Romances are often dialogue heavy. And with current editorial styles, writers are advised to cut as many dialogue tags as possible, as long as it's clear to the reader who's speaking. But the reader has the advantage over the listener. So when I read aloud, I found myself wanting to add the dialogue tags I'd so carefully taken out as well as re-state character names where writers are advised to use more pronouns. The READER can tell what's going on and doesn't want your protagonists' names said over and over, but the listener has different needs.

The other issue I noticed with my experience was when small--I swear they are small!--sections of narrative interrupted the action or dialogue. This, actually, is something it's recommended we writers cut down on when we can. Don't stop the flow. But when you're reading aloud, a sentence or two can seem like a disruptive tangent while a reader, with the book or ebook in her hot little hands, can more easily follow the narrative.

So I'm not saying that reading your fiction aloud as part of the revision process isn't useful. It is. You can find areas that trip the tongue, see things you didn't notice when you were reading in your head. However, since there are differences in the needs of the reader compared to the needs of the listener, it's probably a good idea to be aware of that when you use this revision technique.

Anyone else listen to a lot of audio books? Read aloud much? What are your observations?

Jody W. *


  1. I find reading a scene out loud very helpful. I catch things I've missed, find needed clarifications, and spot any dreaded flowus interruptus.

    That said, I don't read the whole book aloud. Usually just scenes that are giving me trouble. Probably would be good advice to read it all though. Fine tuning your words is always a good idea.

    Oh, and I like books on tape. Especially when I'm driving. It really passes the time!

  2. I like hearing language and listening to stories. I'm a huge fan of books that can be played on my MP3.