Sorry for the lack of posts, but I've spent so much time getting my garden ready for summer, I haven't had time to post -- even though I have plenty to post about.
One piece of advice you hear from agents and writers alike is that you should always read your work out loud to yourself. This gives your ear a chance to catch mistakes and pacing problems that your eyes might miss. Sound advice. But here’s a suggestion to make that advice even better.
Read the text out loud to someone else.
The previous sentence may have caused more than a few skipped heartbeats among the more bashful of writers out there. It’s hard enough handing your baby over to someone who’ll read it in silence. Trust me, I understand. But I cannot overstate the power of this technique.
Some critique groups operate by having everyone send in their submissions ahead of time, so that each member has a chance to critique the work prior to the meeting, saving the meeting for the actual discussions and arguments. My local critique group does things a bit differently. There are no pre-submissions. We show up and read our pages out loud. We often provide hard copies so that the group can read along and mark up the pages with comments as they wish, but many of the group members close their eyes and focus on their initial reactions to the words.
And one thing I’ve learned is that no matter how clever your words looked on paper, or sounded when you read them out loud to yourself, you’ll be stunned by their apparent lameness when you read them to someone else. The parts of your chapter that need work will stand out like spaghetti stains on a white shirt. Flabby passages will sear your eyeballs and make you wonder why you ever thought you could write. Most of the time, you’ll find far more problems with your work than your critique partners ever will.
Reading out loud also makes it easier for your partners to spot pacing problems. As readers, we’re used to skimming over sections of a story that don’t hold our attention—even if we’re not always aware we’re doing it. But when we listen to a story, scenes that drag stick out like a sore thumb. Try listening to a book on tape sometime and you’ll see what I mean.
I remember listening to a chapter at my critique group a few months ago that had a slow beginning. When I read back over the hard copy to mark the offending pages, I was shocked to discover that the boring section was only two paragraphs long. It had only seemed liked two pages when I was listening.
So if you really want your words to shine, force yourself to read them to someone else. You might be embarrassed, but you’ll be glad you did.