Monday, September 2, 2013

Listening To Your Novel (or Having a Conversation by Yourself)

Want to feel crazy? Become a writer. I frequently have conversations with “myself” aloud or on paper. For this entry, I’m going to talk a little about these conversations we writers have aloud.



One exercise that can help a writer in the revision process is to read the work aloud. This technique is especially useful when it comes to dialogue. Dialogue is one of the tools writers use to get ideas across through action and scene. However, you don’t want your dialogue to feel like an info-dump, or like it’s forced. This is where reading aloud comes in handy (you could even record yourself and listen back). Read it as though it would be said in the context of your book and ask yourself: is this natural, or would this come across as a lecture in front of a classroom? Making sure that the dialogue sounds natural will help create believably in your audience. Of course, you don’t want to go too far to the opposite extreme so that it resembles a transcribed conversation. Refrain from using excessive, likes or ums or uhs or whatever else people say when they’re talking to one another, also minimize repetitiveness. Even though it’s natural, it’s unsettling to read. I will be the first to admit that I sometimes fall into this category and I’m currently working through my entire manuscript to trim dialogue where necessary (I do have one character that uses an excessive amount of ‘likes,’ but I can justify it, and I’m doing it on purpose to make a point. If you’re going to do something like that, be able to justify it).

I've also noticed reading aloud helps slow you down so you can more easily pick out typos and other mistakes. It helps give you a feel for your voice and the flow of the story in general. But, as the writer, you’re close to the work and it’s hard to step back and get a real grip on everything (click here for ideas to step back). So hearing your work aloud is another really terrific way to hear the flaws. If you are lucky enough to have a friend willing to read your entire novel aloud to you, then go for it. But not only am I not ready for people to read my entire book as it is now, but asking them to sit with me and read it aloud feels like too big a favor. This idea of hearing my story read to me has eluded me for a while.

How to find Text-To-Speech on Kindle Touch.
Open up the Document, tap the top for the menu bar, open the settings menu,
and on the bottom you will see "Turn on Text-to-Speech."

So last weekend I figured out the niftiest technique to have your story read aloud, and thought I’d pass along because there is actually a lot of value in it. Over the summer, I learned how easy it is to format a Word doc for Kindle (e-mail the word doc as an attachment to your kindle e-mail address and put the word ‘convert’ as your subject line, connect to wi-fi, voila). This enabled me to do revisions on the beach, or while I was waiting on campus for class to start. And did you know that Kindles have a text-to-speech option (you: Yes, duh. Who didn't?). You can control the speed that it’s read and gender of the reader. So in the car, on the way home from the shore, I set my Kindle up to read my novel to me. My book is third person shifting point of view, so when my female protagonist was the POV, I had the woman voice, and visa-versa for the male POV character. One thing I was told in workshop was that my point of view characters switches back and forth too quickly. I didn't necessarily see it at that time, but anything that comes up in workshop is something worth taking a look at. So, for the first time, hearing the story read to me via Kindle Text-to-Speech, I saw it. (Guess what revisions I've been working on this Labor Day weekend?)

I only listened to the first 9000 words or so, but there were a lot of other things that I noticed: Words that, on paper, look good but I didn't like the sound of them. Repetitive words/sounds of words I hadn't noticed before. Confusion as to which character was speaking. Etc. I'm sure you will notice some of your own quirks as you listen to your story. But seriously, talk about stepping back from your book, this was incredibly helpful in that department.

And though this method is by no means perfect, as it is being read by a computerized voice, and pronunciation and inflection will undoubtedly be off. But overall, this experience, while tedious at times, was very valuable, I am going to incorporate it into my revision process here on in, and if you’re looking to add some new techniques, I found this to be very helpful.

And please, let me know in the comments if you try this and how it works for you!

12 comments:

  1. Reading aloud is such a good Idea. And it really helps me when my husband reads my work to me. I sit nearby with a pen & paper, jotting down changes I hadn't thought of earlier.

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    1. Yes! It was hard in the car because I couldn't see to make the changes. Still trying to figure out if Word has a text-to-speech option!

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    2. Your computer in general should have a text-to-speech option in the control panel I think, but there are also a lot of text-to-speech programs that you can buy or download the free trial. There's one that I use: IVONA Reader. The voices are actually relatively close to non-robotic unlike the ones you get through your computer. I've found it extremely useful, especially for pointing out extra commas or lack of commas.

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    3. I found one through windows, but it's really unpredictable, it reads everything on screen, so I will look into IVONA - thank you!

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  2. I've only done a read aloud for two of my WIPs mostly because those are the only two that have reached or gotten close to the done stage. It was helpful, though I got weird looks from my family (the computer was out in the open at the time) and my throat was dying by the end of it.

    Once another of my WIPs gets closer to the end I'll probably do a read aloud, because in essence they are useful :)

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    1. That's awesome that you've read through two of them! You need lots of water and throat lozenges though, haha.

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  3. Hmm. I don't think my Kindle has the text-to-speech option, but just reading it on my Kindle helped give me some distance because I couldn't fiddle with it as easily. I read parts of my WIP aloud, too, to hear rhythm and repetitiveness and wordiness.

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    1. Yes, reading on the Kindle gives distance too - which Kindle do you have?

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  4. Listening to a manuscript via Kindle text-to-speech is the final step before sending it to my editor. It's amazing the number of typos I find, even after multiple read throughs of my own.

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    1. It's an entirely new prospective on your work, it's great!

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  5. I do this more often with my short stories than with my novels, but lately I have started doing so with my novels as well. Especially before I submit either to my local critique group.

    I also read the stories of the other group members out loud sometimes, to get a feel for where the story is. It can help me offer more thoughts sometimes, when a passage seems awkward upon reading it.

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    1. With short stories, I think finding someone to read it aloud to you is more practical than having them read your novel to you and definitely helps. Interested in how your critique group works though!

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