Editing Out Loud

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My Dad prefers to indulge in fiction via audio books, so that he can read while walking. This fact has become a very important part of my editing process. I started putting my books onto cassette tapes so I could get his feedback on them, and guess what? Reading them out loud is an amazing tool!

I mean, I guess I sort of knew this before; it’s been recommended by several different teachers in my education. But here’s my discovery: there is a fundamental difference between just reading something out loud to myself and creating an audio version of the book. I read out loud as I’m writing to see if a phrase is working, or if the dialog sounds natural, but that’s just reading it. When I’m making the audio book, I’m performing it, and that changes the entire way I look at the words.

Example: I have an addiction to the ellipsis. I throw them in everywhere. When I’m just mumble-reading to myself, yeah, those pauses sound great. But when I put my stage voice on, I realize that I don’t need them.

Another example: “But I neeeeed all of this exposition!!!” As I’m recording, I find dialog much easier to read than description. As a result, when I’m getting ready to record, I’ll look at that whole friggin’ page where I give the history of the town and think, “Ugh… do I really want to read all of that out loud?” I’m not saying exposition is bad. Not at all. But this process helps me figure out which pieces I truly need and what’s just leftover from my first draft when I was still discovering the world.

Yet another example: In Clocks (Current WIP. The one I just finished recording.) my characters say “Thank you” a lot. That’s not necessarily a problem by itself, but they always say it exactly the same way. The conversation is just about finished, then they sigh/close their eyes/give a sad smile, and add quietly, “Thank you.” Very pretty… until I need to perform it every other minute. I didn’t realize that all of my Thank you’s were being delivered in the same tone until I had to personally deliver them.

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But I think the main way that this has helped me is by creating a nice measuring stick for whether my first draft is working. As I write, I know that someday, I’ll need to speak these words into a microphone: Am I excited to do that, or am I dreading it? Sometimes a scene will look absolutely fine: no plot holes, no character malfunction, no overused words, but if I don’t eventually want to read it out loud, then it needs fixing.

So, I’m curious, does anyone else edit out loud? Has it helped?  

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10 responses »

  1. Reading aloud is an extremely effective tool for catching our tics, as you found out. It’s also the *best* tool for determining whether one’s dialog resembles the actual cadence of speech. You can take it up a notch by reading to someone else–or push it as far as possible by having someone else read it aloud to you, since they don’t have the underlying thought process to affect inflection, tone, rhythm et al.

    • Whoa… That’s a fantastic idea… And I’m trying to decide if I’m brave enough to do it 😛

      Seriously though, that makes a lot of sense. Because I’m sure there are some patches of dialog that will always make sense to me because I have a very clear sense of how they say them, but that might be totally different from what the average reader ‘hears’ when they look at the book. I’ll definitely have to give that one some thought. There will be another blog post coming if I find a suitable friend to try it with 🙂 Thanks for the idea!!

  2. Oh! This is really interesting. I’ve heard of speaking aloud while editing to hear the words and sentences and get a basic understanding of whether or not they’re right, but I’ve never heard of recording the story.

    I planned to just read draft 2 aloud to myself (or maybe a willing friend or parent, though that was more unlikely) when I was done rewriting, but now I’m thinking I might record it instead. I can see what you mean about the difference between reading and performing.

    Man, I get all sorts of interesting tips from you, haha! You, ma’am, are making me a better writer 😀

    • Aww, really? Awesome 😀 Let me know if you decide to do it / if you learn anything interesting! (Also, if you’re looking for a good–and free–recording program, the one I used is called “Audacity.” It’s neat because when I stumble over words and such, it’s really easy to go back in and delete the pieces I don’t want.

    • Give it a try sometime 🙂 Even if it’s just a few scenes. It’s a little (a lot?) awkward at first, but once the shock of hearing my own voice recorded wears off, it’s really useful. And actually pretty fun.

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