By David E. Sharp
I was a quarterback on the speech and debate team in high school. You didn't think we had quarterbacks in speech and debate? We totally did. And I was one. Take my word for it. Don't research this.
Some of my favorite tournament events involved cutting a piece of prose or poetry and reading it aloud to a room of judges and other students who hope you don't read as well as they do. More fun than it sounds.
To this day, I still read all of my work aloud. It's ingrained. But it's also beneficial. If you don't, you should!
1. Cut the Fluff
You know you need to streamline your writing. But it's hard to know what to trim. Your tongue is smarter than your brain. (Wait, what?) Language is meant to be spoken. Awkward phrasings, extraneous details, run-on sentences and the like won't be able to hide from a read aloud.
|Only in this instance is the tongue smarter than the brain.|
Please favor your brain over your tongue.
2. Unearth Unnatural Dialogue
Ever read a book where characters don't sound natural? I have. They're all, "Greetings, Paul. It's good to see you in that forest green sweater that brings out your eyes in a way that's rugged, but intelligent. You're probably wondering why I'm not dead. I shall narrate my narrow escape thusly . . ."
That garbage won't fly when you read aloud. You may wince when you hear how unnatural your characters sound, but better you than your readers.
3. Tighten Long Scenes
It takes more effort to read aloud than it does to scan with your eyes. You may discover scenes that run on longer than your interest does. Our brains are able to process entire phrases, sentences and even paragraphs at a glance, especially if we are familiar with the content. Silently scanning a page, you may not be able to discern overlong passages.
Your lung capacity won't tolerate inflated prose, even if your eyes do. Taking the time to form each word in your mouth slows you down, and you may find places that drag.
This is the biggest reason of all! Unless you're writing assembly instructions for kitchen appliances, your words are meant to be enjoyable. They're okay on the page, but why not give them some life? Read them aloud!
With all the inflection, dramatic pause and silly voices, you can muster. Drag an audience in. Make a recording. Or just play to an empty room if you like. (You introverts, you!)
There are lots of social opportunities to read your writings in open-mic style settings. For Northern Colorado locals, if you missed the FOCO Book Festival, you can sign up to read some of your amazing words to other writers and book-lovers in other venues!
Don't let your words get musty. Give them some air!