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Nano Tip #19: Read Out Loud

November 20th, 2009

If you ever take a linguistics class, you will hear this catechism from the first day on:

1) Speech is primary.

2) Speech is universal among human cultures, and separates us from other animals.

3) Speech is innately acquired-–-unlike writing, which is a skill that must be learned.

4) Therefore speech (not writing) is the primary material for linguistic study.

Yes, dear NaNoWriMor-ers, writing is important. But speech is the bee’s knees. So when you want to measure your burgeoning novel against a basic human yardstick, read that sucker out loud.


Every week or so, Justine and I read aloud to each other the last few chapters of whatever books we’re writing. We like to entertain each other, but we do have one important rule: the reader is allowed to stop at any time to fix a lousy sentence, even if it leaves the listener hanging.

We’ve found this practice extremely useful for the following reasons:

1) When you read aloud, pacing issues become readily apparent.

2) It is physically impossible to read a crappy sentence without flinching.

3) Reading dialog aloud prevents unintentional hilarity.

3) Drafts are easier to share when no one can see your crappy punctuation and spelling. (In early drafts, you often don’t care about such details yet.)

5) Non-verbal responses like laughter and gasps are invaluable.

6) Novel writing is a lonely process with extremely long lag-times for feedback. Storytelling has the advantage of instantaneous feedback.

7) Loving to tell stories is why we got into this racket.

So the next time you’re stuck, consider finding a friend and reading aloud to them. Surprisingly, a stuffed animal works almost as well, because it’s not the listening that changes everything, it’s the talking.

Speech is primary.

You can still read my chat with Naomi Novik here at Don’t forget to check out Justine’s post from yesterday, about avoiding stereotypes, and her new one tomorrow. See you in two days!

14 Responses to “Nano Tip #19: Read Out Loud”

  1. 1
    November 20th, 2009 02:59

    I hate reading aloud! Ugh! I enjoy being read to, though. Hmm.

  2. 2
    November 20th, 2009 03:15

    I love reading aloud to my younger cousins! I often end up reading The Cat in the Hat to them, not awesome s/f novels. :( But I enjoy being read to, as long as it’s a good book and the person reading it doesn’t have a monotone voice. Books on CD are great for the iPod and at home. They take your mind off of things for awhile… anyways, the advice is good, especially because you don’t always notice what’s horribly wrong with your draft until someone points it out to you! Oh, and Scott-la, I was wondering if you were writing a book for NaNoWriMo. Possibly based on that dialog spine from earlier this month? You haven’t mentioned anything about one, if I recall correctly. Well, keep on writing, everyone! ;)

  3. 3
    November 20th, 2009 03:37

    *grabs a stuffed animal* Right, when my roomie is out for the weekend you are going to listen to me read some of this out loud, capche? I don’t care if you don’t want to, listening to people is in a stuffed animals contract, you aren’t getting out of this!

  4. 4
    Team Toshi Banana
    November 20th, 2009 03:41

    I never thought of that! I really hate reading my work aloud to someone, though. I can’t stand having to read it, and keep wondering whether they like it or they think it’s stupid. :D

  5. 5
    November 20th, 2009 03:42

    My English teacher made my class read our papers aloud.
    I actually read mine aloud before to see if it made sense because it was dialogue-based. It helps to see if the dialogue sounds realistic.

    Reading aloud always seems scary at first, but you can read aloud to yourself in the beginning. It takes a lot of strength and pride in your work to put yourself out there and read in front of people.

  6. 6
    November 20th, 2009 05:16

    Hmm. Not a bad idea. I’ve heard about reading dialogue aloud before, to see if it sounds natural, but this is the first time(that I’ve heard of) that someone’s said to read the actual story.

    And you’re right. It IS impossible to read an incorrect sentence without cringing in horror.

  7. 7
    November 20th, 2009 06:12

    So True!!! This is what we did in the Writers Resource Lab at my school. I went in and my tutor told me lets read it out loud and i was amazed at all the gramatical mistakes I had. This is when you figure out where all your commas go and everything because you listen to your natural pauses and it is soooo helpful. Now I do this for everything that I write even if it is just a letter or something informal! I love it Scott!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. 8
    November 20th, 2009 09:33

    I oughta read to my zoo of stuffed animals – they might enjoy the tale…

  9. 9
    November 20th, 2009 18:50

    This is exactly what I’ve been planning on doing!
    Thanks for the tips!

  10. 10
    November 21st, 2009 01:19

    Unrelated to Nano: I’m sure you’ve seen this already, but whoa! Uglies is happening for real. LED Tattoo:

  11. 11
    ♥DAVID&ZANELUVER!(I used to be Jessie-wa)♥
    November 21st, 2009 11:32

    happy birthday to me! november 20th!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. 12
    November 21st, 2009 11:48

    ooooohhhh goodness my NaNoWriMo is sooooo not gonna be 50,000 words. hehe this is just not working for me. i have like a really good idea for the overall plot but i can’t figure out how to get to that outline. if that makes sense hehe

    on a less frustrated note… HAPPY B-DAY DAVID/ZANE-LA!!!!!!!!!!!!

    -Lizzy-wa OUT! :D

  13. 13
    ♥DAVID&ZANELUVER!(I used to be Jessie-wa)♥
    November 22nd, 2009 00:45

    thanks lizzy-wa!

  14. 14
    Young Writer
    June 22nd, 2013 03:00

    This seems fun! I’ll definitely try this out.

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