I was an actress on the stage for many years. Our first meeting as a cast was to read the play out loud for the first time. Our voices brought the words and characters to life – we found our inflections, we played with accents, we discovered the rhythm of the dialogue. In rare cases we also found spelling errors and awkward sentences.
Reading your work out loud is a fabulous way to lift your story from the page and hear your words in motion. Listening to our work helps to uncover accidental changes in point of view, tense and spelling errors. By reading our work out loud, we can discover flaws we won’t see on the page. Did my character suddenly switch sex in the middle of the story? Did the setting change from one part to another? Does it flow? This technique is particularly useful for dialogue. We talk every day, our ears are accustomed to the way we speak. On the page our dialogue might look normal, but when we give it a voice we can pick up on the awkward or stilted voice of our characters. Sometimes I even record my reading and play it back. Reading out loud is also great practice for that wonderful moment when we may be asked to share our work in public.
Our voice won’t find everything that’s wrong with our story, but it’s a first step before handing it over to our first readers and editors. You can be sure they will catch what you miss.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.