We’ve all been to a public reading where, no matter how magical the words might be on the page, the author proves incapable of successfully delivering them aloud to an audience. From the chin-on-chest mumbler, to the atonal reciter of monologues, to the speed reader who blatantly disregards their own punctuation, a bad performance from an author can be painful to witness. Even worse, it can completely put off potential readers and book buyers.
The first time I was invited to do a reading, I was terrified of being one of those authors. A natural introvert, I decided to practise reading my chosen piece aloud several times over in the privacy of my office in order to get the cadence, speed and delivery just right. And I am so glad I did. Not only did my preparation make for an entertaining reading later on, but I ended up spotting several rough patches and making significant – if minor – tweaks to the language of the story. Unfortunately, that piece was already published, but since then I started to read everything I write back to myself before submission/publication. I now regard this as an essential part of my process, the final stage of polishing an otherwise finished draft, or proofing soon-to-be published pages.
Reading out loud is an utterly different experience to simply reading silently from a manuscript. Hearing the words spoken outside of your own head is the best way I’ve found to pick up annoying repetitions, unnecessary speech tags, stilted dialogue, awkward sentence constructions, unwanted tense changes, and a whole host of other linguistic problems that your work will be much better off without. Trust me, it’s a rare eye that will catch everything on the page, but a rare ear that won’t notice when something simply sounds wrong.
Of course, you do need to make allowances for styles and formats that were never intended to be read aloud and perhaps don’t lend themselves to oral performance, but for a basic linguistic once-over, this technique is invaluable. I even read the whole of my last novel aloud – all 120,000 words of it – as part of the copyediting process. It took the best part of three days and I had almost no voice left by the end, but the stumbles and missed beats that my ear was able to pick up and correct made it a much more polished book. So, if you’re not already in the habit of reading your work out loud, why not give it try? Chronic laryngitis notwithstanding, I can guarantee you will become a better writer for it.
Kirstyn McDermott has been working in the darker alleyways of speculative fiction for much of her career, with many critically acclaimed and award-winning short stories under her authorial belt. Her two novels, *Madigan Mine* (Picador, 2010) and *Perfections* (Xoum, 2012) both won the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel in their respective years, and a collection of short fiction, *Caution: Contains Small Parts* was just published by Twelfth Planet Press. While wearing her non-writing hats, Kirstyn co-edited the inaugural issue of *Midnight Echo*, served as Vice President of the Australian Horror Writers Association, and convened Continuum 3, the speculative fiction and pop culture convention. These days, when not wearing her writing hat, she produces and co-hosts a monthly literary discussion podcast, *The Writer and the Critic*, which generally keeps her out of trouble. After many years based in Melbourne, Kirstyn now lives in Ballarat with her husband and fellow scribbler, Jason Nahrung.
She can be found online (usually far too often) at www.kirstynmcdermott.com