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Why Reading Aloud Is the Best Editing Tool
Written by
Karen K. Hugg
January 2016
Written by
Karen K. Hugg
January 2016

I'm in the final stages of editing my manuscript. And today I read the book aloud. Reading aloud is such a pain -- it sounds strange to hear your voice after sitting for so long in silence, and it's physically arduous -- but boy, is it helpful. Here's what I find when I do it.

Repeating words or gestures. I read aloud and hear that my protagonist shifted in his seat twice in the space of a page. I used "against" twice in a paragraph. Ehh! Buzzer.

Clunky grammar. Phrases like "had to be heard at" or "being uncomfortable with what was" or whatever I may write that ends up sounding like a Sarah Palin spoof.

Overused or too many metaphors. Did I just compare that woman to a weasel and then a sentence later her hat to a fox? Is that man's round face like the moon? Baaad... remove.

Long sentences. Do I need both "vivid" and "green" to describe the field. Should I say "cramped" forest or is a forest by its nature cramped? Kill the darling description. Tighten, tighten, until the rhythm is smooth.

Dialogue missteps. Didn't my protagonist already tell his cousin, in a slightly different way, that he's anxious to confront the villain? Yes, I wouldn't have caught that had I been reading silently. And, do I really need so many attributions? "He said," "she said," etc. Probably not.

And lastly, and most importantly, what I learn from reading aloud is how the tension rises and falls. Where the slow spots are. And whether or not all of that works. If not, it's sixteen steps backward and into reconfiguring plot scenes and internal sequels. Luckily, I worked those issues out earlier in the year and didn't have to do that today. Whew.

One thing I don't necessarily learn but think is a great benefit is hearing yourself tell the story. Hearing your voice. How you project. How you articulate. How quickly you read. How you deliver the story to the outside world is incredibly important, because after all, that's what this whole endeavor is about.

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  • Thank you for this reminder.  Such a great idea in any genre...immediate feedback using alternate forms of media.  I often record myself playing flute to learn better how to play a piece.  Reading aloud is a great way to develop one's unique voice.  I don't think I do it enough, but will start doing more often now.

  • Karoline Barrett

    I use my computer to read my manuscript back to me.

  • Karen K. Hugg

    Thanks for all of the comments! Yes, "startling" is the word! Making your mouth sound out it all reveals so much we internally miss. And if you can get someone to listen, wow, even better. I've found the biggest hump to get over is finding the solid block of time to just do it. Good luck in your writing, everybody!

  • Purabi Das

    Hi Karen, your post came at the right time - my manuscript should be done by end of May. I will read it loud, maybe even record and play back. Thanks so much.

  • I could not agree more!! I read my entire novel out loud -- after extensive editing -- and discovered so many things that needed tweaking, changing, or reworking that it was almost startling. This is also a crucial thing to do before you tour with your work and do readings. With my first book, I sometimes found myself editing as I read aloud. Better to do that before you publish. :)

  • Pam McGaffin Promoting

    I just finished reading my young-adult novel to my husband and two teenage sons. I recommend reading to someone (or several someones). For me, having an audience added three more viewpoints, though I learned as much from their non-verbal reactions -- the little sighs when my 16-year-old was getting bored, my husband's laughs (good) and yawns (not so good), the one night my eldest son fell asleep half way through my chapter (he was more tired than bored, I think). When they were absorbed in the story, all fidgeting stopped and the only sound I heard was my own voice. Magic.

  • Sandi Means

    So true and so easy to do.