Workshops & reading aloud

In every writing workshop I’ve been a member of, the format has been the same. My colleagues and I sit around a table and read our writing aloud.

As we progress from session to session, our primary objective, of course, is to improve our writing. We should keep in mind another aim as well: to improve our reading. That is, our spoken reading.

Go listen to accomplished authors when they make an appearance in your area. Almost all are good readers. Of the many authors I have heard, two stand out. Sue Miller, reading from The Senator’s Wife, was perfect: her diction, her tone, her pace—everything. She never used her voice to dramatize her prose, but as a listener you were swept up in the writing as well as in the story. Junot Diaz, reading from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was equally enthralling but different. His tone and diction were distinctive; his pace was almost painfully slow. As a result, though, each word hit home.

The masterful magazine writer William Langewiesche, in an interview in Robert S. Boynton’s The New New Journalism, says the following:

“Writing has to be readable. It has to be readable-out-loudable. Sound and rhythm are extremely important. By reading out loud I can see whether it’s working.”

A blogger named Taylor at the menwithpens.ca website expands on Langewiesche’s idea in a helpful way.

“[T]here are writers with an innate ability to understand which words flow together and which do not. However—and it’s a big however— just as there are natural dancers and singers and all the rest of it, there are also dancers and singers who became good at it through practice. This is what reading aloud does for you. It is practice in flow.

“So read aloud. If you catch yourself skipping words, take them out of the draft. If you catch yourself substituting one word for another or rearranging the grammar in your head, make the correction.”

Too fast and too flat. From my experience, those are the two most common flaws in the way workshoppers read. Don’t race, and don’t drone.

Also, don’t “act” your story. If your writing is effective, the reader will adjust the volume and impart the proper tone of voice in his or her head.

Remember, you are neither a robot nor an actor. You are a storyteller. Tell your story.
—Alex McNab

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Published in: on December 9, 2009 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

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