Revising Out Loud for Visual Learners

After a week off (between being sick and working with some freelance clients), I'm back at revisions for THE TRIAL. This time around (my fourth draft) I'm in a polishing phase. I'm getting specific, line level notes from a couple of my CPs, and I'm using that information to clean and tighten my manuscript so it'll be ready to query agents. I finished Act I today, so now it's just a matter of waiting on notes for Acts II and III and implementing them as they come in.

It feels crazy exciting to say this, but I'll be back in the query trenches soon!

Today I'd like to talk a little about a technique that, while time consuming, is great when you're in a polishing phase of revision: Reading your work out loud.

First, as the title of this post suggests, I'm a visual learner. I really struggle to absorb information that is spoken to me. When I was a kid and teachers had students read out loud, I thought it was just the worst. So while it's pretty common writing advice to read your work out loud, I always avoided it.

So today, for all you non-auditory learners out there, I thought I'd share some tips to make reading your work out loud work for you.

I admit I'm not the kind of person who can do this for every stage of revision. If you're planning to query agents with your WIP, I'd save this step for that final polishing edit when you want to make sure that everything really flows. If you think you will have a similar aversion to this technique, don't waste your one time reading aloud on a draft that still needs structural changes.

Okay, so if you're still with me, here are some tips to help you visual learners out there get the most out of your auditory revision.

  • If you're polishing based on feedback (like I am), jump through the scene from correction to correction before you read out loud. Try not to read the scene as a whole: focus on the changes in isolation. Once you've fixed all the main concerns, go back to the beginning of the scene and start vocalizing.
  • Speed is not your friend. Do not try to read quickly. Do not try to "get through it." Take it slow and allow yourself to sink into the story.
  • If you're anything like me, you will find solitude very helpful. Avoid this technique while in public. If you're the super self-conscious type, you may even want to get some background (wordless) noise going while you read. (I like to have a fan going.)
  • Pretend you're reading to an audience. Speak clearly and avoid monotone. Get into the characters. If they're upset, sound upset! Yell the dialogue if you need to. This is also a great way to find out if the character emotions transition in a way that makes sense. If it feels weird to yell in response to a slight, perhaps you need to increase the conflict or decrease the reaction.
  • Only read one scene at a time. This was a critical breakthrough for me. After about 1500 words, my throat gets dry, and I start to hate speaking. To combat this, I jump through the scene, fix things, and then I read the scene out loud. After that, I stop reading out loud and go back to the choppy fixing of things and let my voice rest.
  • Again, a reminder to move slowly through the scene, fixing issues as you find them. Really take this time to listen to the voice. If you have more than one POV character, it should feel different when you're reading each of them. They should have specific ways to say things, and the cadence of their thoughts will be different.

And that's pretty much it! Take it slow and save this step for that final edit. Leave any questions or further suggestions in the comments!