But it made perfect sense when I was reading it to myself…

A cat peering at a Macbook Pro.

Sometimes there’s a lot more staring at the screen than pressing of the keys.

There have been stories I struggled with for years. There was this one story where I had this very interesting character whose voice just flowed from the fingertips at the speed of lightning when I wrote the opening scene for her story. I knew the trouble she was in and how she would eventually get out of it. She was a new character in an existing setting where I had a lot of great established character who could play the supporting roles. It just felt like magic every time I re-read the half dozen scenes I’d written. It was taking me longer to get to the resolution than I had originally thought when I had the story idea, but I figured that once I ironed a couple of plot issues out, I could probably trim a few of the scenes so far.

Then I read the story aloud to my monthly writers’ group.

I honestly don’t remember much of the critique I got from the group that night. And truth be told, I didn’t read everything I’d written. I only read the opening scene, and by the time I reached the end of the scene, I already knew that the story was a disaster. Part of it was the nonverbal reaction of the group, yes, but that wasn’t what killed the story for me. No, just hearing it aloud in my own voice revealed that it was an awful opening to an unpleasant story.

The character was in a very unpleasant situation, but that’s not what I mean when I say it was an unpleasant story. I mean that it was unpleasant to read the scene that I’d written. And I knew the rest of them suffered the same problem. I had picked the wrong place to start the story, and I was fairly certain that while my new character was interesting, she shouldn’t be the viewpoint character for this particular story. She might still be the protagonist, but she wasn’t the person who should narrate this particular tale.

And I learned all of that before any of the other writers in the group said a word. Just from the act of reading it aloud.

It’s advice I have received for as long as I can remember. Back when I was a grade-school student haunting the library’s magazine collection reading back issues of The Writer and Writer’s Digest I saw the advice again and again: read the story aloud to yourself before you show it to other people. It’s advice I’ve given many times. But I don’t always follow it. That particular story I really should have.

Reading it aloud, either to yourself or an audience, will expose awkward sentences at a minimum. There are all sorts of sentences you can write that make perfect sense, follow the rules of grammar and so forth, but when you try to say them out loud, your tongue trips on them. That’s why I always have a pencil or other writing implement in my hand when I read aloud, so I can circle the places I stumble over awkward phrasing.

But that isn’t the only thing you learn reading it aloud. There are numerous studies that show, for instance, the act of simply speaking about a problem you’ve been worrying about makes you think of it in a new light. Neurologically, they say, that’s because different parts of the brain interact differently. It’s not just the act of putting a problem into words, it appears to also be the fact that as you listen to yourself speak, different areas of the brain react differently than when you contemplate a problem in silence.

That process doesn’t just apply to solving real world problems, obviously. Listening to your story aloud makes you process it differently than reading it silently.

Reading it aloud to someone else brings in a different level of information, much of it non-verbal as I alluded to above. Your listeners may fidget, or become distracted, for instance. You’re not holding their attention. You’ll get other cues, as well.

That particular tale was re-written substantially several times, though I didn’t bring each draft back to the group. I tried telling the story from the points of view of three different supporting characters before I found the right viewpoint character and the right starting point. The fourth version, when it was read, got very positive responses. And eventually was published, and I got a few compliments from readers of the ‘zine.

The key to realizing my approach was wrong was to simply read the opening scene aloud–advice I have tried to follow much more faithfully ever since.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , ,

About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. I publish an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live in Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

2 responses to “But it made perfect sense when I was reading it to myself…”

  1. wolflahti says :

    “There are positive neuropsychic benefits to be had from vocalizing, even in solitude.” —Robert Silverberg

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Friday Links (apocalyptic weather edition) | Font Folly - September 8, 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: