Do you read your work aloud?
This is one of those bits of writing advice I stumble across everywhere (yes, everywhere), and yet I've never done it. I feel like I have a good "ear" for writing, for dialogue, for the sound and flow of a sentence. So odd, that term, since my ear is exactly what I don't use. And yet maybe I'm missing something by skipping this technique?
What's making me rethink this audio absence is that I read a lot to my kids. Now, reading picture books was fun, but I wasn't exactly analyzing the prose (okay, only sometimes). But my daughter is five now, and though she's only learning to read and write herself, she absolutely loves listening to stories - and, when a story is involved, her attention span is incredible. She can make sense of complete novels, so we've been reading her long books. Anne of Green Gables, Old Yeller, The Secret of Nimh, The Hobbit, etc. I just started reading Lloyd Alexander's wonderful series The Prydain Chronicles, starting with The Book of Three.
And what was striking me as I read was not just the simple elegance of his prose, but how my voice played off it. What are the words on the page... and do I want to read them that way? Sometimes word choice and rhythm and flow made me unconsciously deduct or add words. I'd say it, and realize a moment later what I'd done.
There's an interesting sort of engagement with the words when reading aloud. Trying to have the voice inflect the words properly, to not just repeat them correctly but catch and reflect the proper meaning. I note word choices, sounds, the feel of how a character talks.
I'm coming up to the appearance of Gurgi in the novel, a little furball of a character with an odd speech pattern I've always adored. "Crunches and munches for poor Gurgi!" He's a memorable character, I'm sure, for anyone who's read the book, and I'm trying to figure out how to capture him in my own voice. To give a hint of Gurgi...
And of course this got me thinking about my own writing, my own stories, and how I've never read them to myself out loud. It's an interesting way to walk around in the words, hearing them from your own lips. It's like an echo effect: you read and interpret the words silently, the brain processing meaning, and then you hear them again an instant later, your voice echoing the thoughts, spitting them back out.
Yet sometimes the echo is not perfect. There is a slight dissonance, that sense of transformation as words pass from page to brain to lips. The complex process of interpretation and dramatic shading, the recreation of rhythm... there are little jarrings, small false notes in the performance. As I read, part of my brain tumbles over each of these, thinking and analyzing the prose, the interior versus the exterior soundings.
So am I missing something? Do any of you read your work aloud? Why do you do it, and what do you think it does for you? And, of course, is it embarassing to be caught spouting your prose at an empty room? I have a feeling I'd end up doing goofy pantomime that would find its way onto Youtube.