by Sarah Tun
Do you remember reading aloud to your children? Or if you’ve never been a parent or teacher, how about the reading aloud you had to do in school when you were young, to prove you could actually read: Remember that?
What’s the point of reading aloud?
To read aloud gives added benefit to the reader. It slows the reading down. It helps to ensure he sees every word, and therefore he doesn’t miss key ideas in the narrative he might otherwise miss when reading silently.
To the writer, reading aloud gives a sense of punctuation as well as meaning. Paragraph structure, sentence structure, sentence length and variety, vocabulary: All these tend to be highlighted when we hear as well as see what is written.
It’s great to read our own work aloud
When you share your work with others by reading it aloud, you can get valuable feedback from them… Did your ideas come across clearly. Was the listener inspired or curious about the content? Were the images you tried to create made vivid in the listener’s imagination?
But what about reading aloud when you’re alone? Is that crazy?
It isn’t crazy to talk out loud to yourself… Many of us do that from time to time (though I once heard a quip about answering yourself being a hint that something might be amiss in your head!). It’s sometimes a way of planning an important discussion with someone, of working out the various ways a conversation might go, in order to prepare yourself. Or sometimes, it’s a safe way to “let off steam!”
If talking aloud to oneself isn’t crazy, then reading aloud is certainly not a silly or crazy thing to do.
Reading your own work aloud is an excellent way to edit your ideas and sometimes your grammar. You’ll pause briefly where you naturally should have a comma, or you’ll pause for longer where you need a full stop (period) or a new paragraph.
You’ll hear when you’ve written a sentence that is simply too long, or too convoluted, for your reader to grasp. You’ll hear when you’ve used a word too often, or haven’t made singulars or plurals line up, or haven’t made an agreement between the subject of the sentence and the verb or the object. You’ll hear when a phrase doesn’t make sense. You’ll also tend to make your sentences less wordy as you read aloud, so pay attention to how your brain is rearranging a sentence or phrase.
Reading aloud doesn’t only address grammatical details
When you read aloud, you’ll discover whether or not the writing sounds natural, and that’s just perfect! While some people may feel their writing should sound super-sophisticated or else it isn’t proper, I’m here to suggest that simply isn’t true.
Simple, clear, direct writing structure and vocabulary is best.
You are writing for a particular audience, and you’ll want that audience to be entertained or informed. The way to do that is twofold: to give the information using the vocabulary and writing style which is most appropriate for those readers, and to create a tone of voice through your writing style, which is age-appropriate.
Reading aloud will help you to edit, listening not only to the grammatical aspect of your writing, but also to the “voice”.
Voice refers to the speaker or narrator created for the piece. Whether prose or poetry, fiction or resource, every piece of writing has a unique “voice”. This is the narrator that the reader is prompted to imagine as he reads, the speaker he hears in his head as he reads.
Know your Audience
Are you writing for children, teens or adults? Passionate followers of your fiction or people looking for your guidance? How old are your readers? What is their common background? Are they keen to be entertained, or educated by your piece?
These are just some of the questions you need to answer in order to know who you are writing for, and therefore, how to develop the most suitable “voice” for your piece.
Developing the Voice for your piece
One sample contrast as example:
In contrast to fiction for adults, a children’s story will have limited vocabulary and a perhaps a simple plot. The sentences will probably be shorter the younger the age of your child audience. Of course your subject matter will be age-appropriate.
In total, your content will be selected to best suit your audience.
But these are only some of the details which will help you to develop your piece. The best voice must be conveyed. In this case, the voice means the attitude, tone, and relationship to content (i.e.: the characters or subject matter) of the piece.
Reading aloud tests the voice of the piece
Reading aloud can help to test whether your intended “voice” is achieved; it helps to focus us on How the whole piece sounds to your intended audience.
The voice of the piece needs to be suitable, taking into consideration your young audience or your adult reader.
What you’re looking for: vocabulary and sentence structure, tone, reader response
When you read your children’s story aloud, if there are words beyond most children’s vocabulary, they will “jump out” at you; but also the overall tone will stand out clearly as you read aloud, and you’ll get a clear sense of whether the tone of the story will enhance your readers’ delight or bore them (children are not polite audiences; if the story isn’t of interest at best they’ll squirm or yawn, and at worst, well…). What makes “Horrible Histories” for example, interesting and fascinating for children is that, although it is packed with facts and figures, it is delivered with a tongue-in-cheek tone and surrounded by an atmosphere or appropriate sarcasm and wit.
Conversely, with adult literature, though you don’t want to sound completely detached (even if you are writing a text book, you do want to sound familiar, warm, and human in some measure) nor too simplistic; your more mature reader will expect to understand everything you say but will want a larger vocabulary and more varied sentence structure than one would normally find in a piece of children’s literature or schoolbooks.
The simple truth is that all writers need an editor. To a large degree, if we learn to self-edit, we can save time, money and energy as we perfect our writing craft by drafting and re-drafting.
One great way to edit, is to read our work aloud. It lets us hear how our work sounds and helps us to revise, both some of the nitty-gritty of grammar, and the more elusive aspects of story and voice.
I will be pausing for some weeks before blogging again, as I’m putting my head down to determine which writing project of my own to focus on, as well as helping to enable others to complete their projects.