The Benefits of Reading Your Writing Aloud
Sound carries more weight in the mind than thought. That’s an odd sentence out of context, but to a writer it is important and of note. The brain receives sound as external input through the ears—no matter the source of the sound—and logs it as a memory, whereas thoughts are internal and therefore processed but not always logged. Practically speaking, that means you learn and remember that which you hear better than that which you think. It is why we can recall conversations but not always exact thoughts.
For a writer, knowing this can provide several benefits.
Those thoughts, those plotlines, those characters, those words, those things we think of that are brilliant but fleeting and vanish before we have a chance to write them down, they can be captured. If you come up with an idea and are unable to write it down, say it aloud. Listen to yourself talking about it—out loud—and then you will form a memory of what you say.
Before you commit your concept to paper, talk it through with yourself. Do this alone, and aloud. Talking about it, playing devil’s advocate with yourself, will allow you to work through any issues or problems that may arise before you have written them down, so when you do start writing you have already solved them. You will also absorb the dialogue you create with yourself because, instead of it just being a thought process that happens internally, it will be an outside voice (even if it is your own) that you are hearing.
Read your writing aloud to yourself. As you go through, mark (either with a pen on paper, or with the highlight tool if you are on a computer) any point where your words stumble. If you struggle to pronounce a sentence, or you stammer on a word, or the sentence needs to be read twice because you put the inflection at the wrong point, then that part needs addressing.
As you read your writing aloud, you will notice the parts which drag on and the parts which accelerate, and will adapt your speech accordingly. Note this down and capitalise upon it. If a scene is speeding up, you can either slow it down or increase the speed even further to create a sense of hectic panic and greater tension. If a scene is too slow, you can cut superfluous writing or rewrite the whole section. The subconsciously-applied tone of your voice as you are reading will only come across when you read out loud.
The only way to tell if dialogue works as speech is to speak it. Read it aloud, almost as if it is a script—you can cut out the surrounding description and just read the dialogue to do this for maximum effect—and you will be able to tell if it feels natural or not. Authentic dialogue should read as if the characters have said it off-the-cuff, not as a rehearsed and pre-scripted scene. To immerse your readers, you need to immerse yourself.
You will notice that as you read, your brain naturally skips words or moves sentences around. Note this down if you can and make the changes your subconscious has made on the written text. Your mind makes those alterations for a reason, so even if you don’t understand it, it is worth paying attention to.
You can take this a step further and employ a dictaphone, or a voice memo app on your phone, to record yourself reading aloud and then play it back to yourself. The benefits of reading aloud are considerable, and it is a practice that all writers should undertake.
© 2019 Seb Reilly
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.