Most of us stopped reading aloud when our last child outgrew being a listener. But remember what engaged you and your child. It probably included rhythm, delightful words (think Dr. Seuss), vivid images, and different voices for different characters. These are all good things for adult books and stories.
Reading your work aloud is a good way to improve it. Ideally, someone else would read it aloud while you listen and take notes, but such a partner may be hard to come by. Alternatively, read aloud to yourself—actually reading, not mumbling the words. Perhaps even recording yourself reading at least part of it. Reading aloud accomplishes several things.
1. It highlights verbal tics: Repeated words or phrases hit the ear in a way they don’t hit the eye. Providing a character with a verbal tic can be a good thing, but when everyone uses the same word or phrase, it becomes the author’s verbal tic, and that is not good. It’s boring. I wrote about this in an earlier blog. Also, the same speech patterns makes it difficult for the reader to identify the character who is speaking.
2. You hear awkward sentence structures. Too long. Too convoluted. Too many parenthetical insertions. Too long a series with everything separated by commas, etc. Anywhere you stumble reading aloud, your stranger reader is likely to stumble reading the written word.
3. You can identify needed and unneeded attributions. If John and Susan are the only two people talking, you needn’t identify every change of speaker—something you can easily hear.
4. If you read it as it’s written, punctuation flaws jump out. You can hear when you’ve put a period at the end of a question, or a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence. You can hear when a sentence would benefit from a dash—to add more emphasis than a comma.
5. You’re likely to notice when too many of your paragraphs begin with the same structure. The most likely pattern here is to start each paragraph with a character taking an action. John stood… Mary slammed the book down… Sam laughed… Claris tossed back a shot of bourbon… Such a pattern begs for varied transitions.
BONUS: Reading your work aloud is good practice for when you win a major award and are asked to do public readings all over the country!