Last week I gave a few tips from The Oxford Inklings on improving your critique group. You can read that post here if you missed it. This week I want to share one of that group’s most valuable writing tips. The Inklings all advocated reading works-in-progress aloud. Historically this make sense, they were from a generation free of TV and computers, where family entertainment meant one person reading to the rest of the household in the evenings. Now, most writing groups meet monthly or not at all. Some, including my own email the drafts back and forth, making it hard to model a read aloud critique method. However, there are four excellent reasons why every writer should read their work aloud.
1. You will catch mistakes: From on-the-nose dialogue, clichés and repeated words, reading aloud makes all the small mistakes stand out. Nothing drives home the need to fix long sentences and pretentious vocabulary like hearing them come out of your own mouth. If it makes you stumble, it has to go. You will also learn something about your own sense of voice, catch when characters sound too much alike, and hear if your prose has a natural rise and fall quality that’s pleasant or annoying.
2. It helps prepare your work for audio book creation: Did you know that audio books sales are a 1.2 billion dollar industry? Yes, billion with a “B.” Every year more Indie authors are making audio books and the monetary upside can be considerable, too good to pass up. Some of an audio book’s success comes from pairing the right voice to the content, but you also need to give the voice actor the highest quality material to work with. This is even more critical for Indie writers since the best voice actors are in hot demand and have their pick of projects.
3. It gives you more marketing options: I can not forget the image of J. K. Rowling reading from Peter Pan at the opening of the London Olympic games. Of course it was magical, why wouldn’t it be, but it’s Barrie’s words that moved me. As a playwright, Barrie naturally wrote with the idea of spoken words in his head and his prose still sounded amazing even after over a hundred years. Opportunities abound for writers to read their own works aloud, from podcasts, coffee shops, libraries, book clubs, conventions and book store signings. Make it your mission to create pages that, when read aloud, draw new readers to you. Make sure your passages are smoothly crafted and peppered with dramatic words that will help cause a reaction from the crowd.
4. Audience demographics may demand it: If you’re writing kidlit and not reading the books aloud to real live children, shame on you. I’m not just talking about picture books here, many parents keep reading to their kids long after they learn to read. I know I do. Even my eldest son will slip into the room to hear me read to my youngest. If you don’t have your own kids to read to, network until you find an audience. A classroom setting is ideal, but if you need to make a tape and mail it to a long-lost cousin’s offspring, just do it. Or jump on Skype, or use your cell phone with unlimited minutes and read to some family or friends across the country. It might be a challenge to arrange a proper audience, but make sure your book has killer read-aloud appeal and little readers will love you for it.
I’m sure I speak for many book lovers when I say great audio books are always welcome. I never take a trip without a few tucked into my glove box or loaded into my iPod. Listening to other writers also improves my vocabulary. It trains my ear for dialects and helps me think about new (or old) phraseology. It also helps me understand what makes a great read-aloud book work and what quickly puts me off the story. Both reading your own work aloud and listening to other authors read theirs provides valuable and often overlooked writer training that everyone can benefit from.