voices in my head

I read my story drafts aloud. (My wife at first thought I was having long telephone conversations with someone.) I sit at my desk in my little writing room and read the drafts over and over to hear how they sound. I listen mostly for the narrative voice, to see if it’s being consistent, or if, when I break out with a ramble or playfulness or such, it is effectively inconsistent. And I listen for repetitiveness. I hate when I find a repeated word in subsequent sentences after one of my stories is published. Repeated words seems to be one of my writing problems. (“Repeated words” in that preceding sentence I’m using as a singular subject, thus the singular verb, “seems,” but it did sound wrong when I read it aloud.)

I’d read somewhere (probably on your blog) about how nice it is to listen to an audiobook read by the author. In that way, you get to hear how the actual writer intended the words to be intoned and the sentences to roll merrily along. I can’t say that I share that sentiment. The few times I have tried author-read books, I’ve really not liked them. (Roger Zelazny about put me to sleep with one of his Amber novels.) I’d much rather have an actor, or at least a voice actor, read a story aloud. (For all their faults as stories, the Sue Grafton Alphabet novels as read by Judy Kaye are about as close to perfect in reading voice as humans can achieve I think. Judy Kay is an opera singer among other things.)

In any case, one thing I’ve learned from reading my own scribbles aloud is that I don’t always know how I intend my words to be intoned. Take this example from the end of my story “The Lonely Road.” Sad, sad Davey is having a realization that maybe his life isn’t so horrible.

“Maybe it was true, he thought, as a tear escaped his eye. Maybe she really did love him.”

I’ve read and re-read those two sentences out loud a hundred times, trying to figure out where to hit with emphasis, where to pause, what to do with them.

Here’s one version:

“Maybe it was *pause* true, he thought, as a tear escaped his eye. Maybe she really did *pause* love him.”

Here’s another:

“Maybe it was true, he thought, as a tear escaped his eye. Maybe she really did love him.”

I go back and forth on these two versions of those two sentences. (Intended word and structure repetition in the preceding sentence.) The former emphasizes the actuality of the love. The latter emphasizes the possibility of the love. I lean toward the former — the boy finds himself worthy of love — rather than the latter — the boy finds himself the recipient of love.

Regardless, I don’t want to be the reader when my fabulous collection of stories is published as an audio book.

Do you read your drafts out loud? Do you puzzle and struggle over this kind of thing?

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4 Comments on “voices in my head”


  1. I never read things out loud because I’m dyslexic and have such a hard time reading out loud. But after recording my first novel as a podcast and practicing repeatedly, I’m better at reading out loud…so now I do. And…it’s amazing how important it’s become as part of my process. It’s not just dialog that I change as I read out loud; as you mention, I hear the prose and work to make it sound better.

    There are a few authors who are also good readers, but I agree that I like people who make livings with their voices reading novels out loud for audio books. When I did my first podcast, I gave my manuscript and recording gear to a friend who reads very well and has a good voice. Sadly, he was very busy and couldn’t get to things soon enough, so I read the book myself. It took me, at times, 10-12 tries on some sentences to get things down to a point that satisfied me. In the end, people emailed and said they loved the way I read all the different characters’ voices, but I’m with you: few authors read their own work well.

  2. Annam Says:

    I do read my words aloud (I find it helps me catch mistakes, too). Sometimes I will ask other people to read my words aloud to see where they place the emphasis. It’s a good exercise.

  3. donnaeve Says:

    As soon as I start to read out loud, I immediately stop to fix something. Which breaks the cycle, but yes, I do read some (not all) passages out loud. I have struggled over sentences in this manner as well. It drives me crazy.

  4. sputnitsa Says:

    I don’t read aloud, although I tried it a while back. But I do read to myself in my mind. That way hearing my voice doesn’t jar me.

    Ultimately, things can be read in many ways, and so long as your truth isn’t lost, and the music or tone of what you’re aiming for is there… sounds like success to me.


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