The magic of reading out loud

When I worked as a writing tutor in college, we always had the students read their papers out loud. Most of them groaned when we told them, but once they’d seen the pure genius of it, they were happy to do it the next time around. I still read out loud to myself when I’m editing, and it’s a great way to catch a lot of your own mistakes before sending it off to an editor. The more you can do on your own, the more your editor can help you take it to the next level without getting bogged down in grammar lessons.

Reading your story out loud will do several things for you:

It will force you to slow down and read every word

Or at least, more than you would when reading silently. Our brains read much more quickly than we speak, and we often assume that words are there when they aren’t, or skip over a small mistake as our brains fill in with what we expect to be there. That doesn’t happen as easily when you’re reading at the pace of speaking. You’re more likely to catch those little things that you’d normally skip right over.

It will show you awkward wording

You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll read a sentence out loud and stop to fix it. Students reading their papers out loud to me would stop and say, “Wait, what?” when they realized what they’d written. I often wouldn’t have to say anything; they’d notice it and fix it on their own. We inherently know what sounds good, but sometimes we don’t hear it in our heads when we write it — or when we read silently.

It will help you hear what you’ve only been seeing

I recently had an author tell me that she doesn’t hear names in her head when she writes them; she just sees them. So when people ask her how to pronounce her made-up names, she’s not quite sure. Many readers hear the words in their heads when reading, and it’s frustrating not knowing how it’s supposed to sound, or trying several different pronunciations and not landing on one that makes sense. It’s distracting. Read it out loud and you’ll know if the wording sounds wrong or if the pronunciation is indecipherable. On a side note: if you’ve created a world with crazy names, you might consider adding a pronunciation guide!

It will bring the dialogue to life

Go ahead, read it in your best accent and with feeling. Be the narrator and all the characters. Your dramatic side can’t wait! You might think a line of dialogue sounds great, but if you read it out loud and it just sounds cheesy, even when you try varying intonations, something probably needs to change. Dialogue walks a fine line between realistic enough to believe and contrived enough to sound perfect, and reading out loud will let you know if you’ve achieved that balance. Make sure to pay attention to your descriptions of tone of voice and expression to be sure it’s what you meant to portray. Can you act it out? Does it ring true?

If you feel like a freak reading it out loud, do it when nobody is around. Or maybe it will be easier to read it to somebody. Maybe just the dog. Whatever helps you hear it will help you see it more clearly — and maybe even in a new light.

This post was originally published on The Writer’s Assistant.

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    Word nerd who loves reading and perfecting. Editor and creator of The Writer’s Assistant.

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    Word nerd who loves reading and perfecting. Editor and creator of The Writer’s Assistant.

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