Sparked by Words

Dress Rehearsal


My husband is used to seeing me walk around muttering to myself. Or so he says, as he casts me a quizzical look while I cast myself into my story. A sheaf of pages in one fist, my other hand waving in the air or pressing the top of my head, I speak my book. A dress rehearsal of sorts. Over and over, I read passages aloud, running words across my tongue, phrases through my teeth. Do they sound right, do they inspire and explain, or are they awkward and confusing? I twist like a drill at tense moments, collapse into a chair when a scene changes, drop my voice to a mouse squeak if secrets are being shared, shout like a football coach when a character is angry.

Sometimes I choke up. Is the scene set as solidly as a block of granite, can one taste the spices in the mountains, did I scratch my hand on the bark of a fallen tree where my character sat to consider her future? I wander as I read; hubby looks askance. Don’t interrupt, I’m editing my book.  The dramatic presentation isn’t meant for him and I’m embarrassed that he sees me, but still I don’t stop. It’s part of a lengthy strategic approach for editing my book: to read my book out loud.

If you ask my advice on the best way to ascertain the power of your writing, the authenticity of your characters, and the suspense of your plot, I will tell you to read your book out loud. It’s often the most sincere and best advice I give because much of the rest might be thought of as criticism ill considered. Read your own book – you will sense its worth for yourself. No, I didn’t invent the idea but I do practice it.

Before I begin to read my story, I’ve already edited for a thousand small errors and structural faults. Spelling and punctuation are corrected, paragraphs are organized, and the story’s loose ends are tied in knots. Reading aloud is not for a work in progress, it’s for the one that’s near the end of the work order. I’m vigilant about finding fault, I’m tough on myself, and I’ll do this out loud reading after letting the story sit untouched for a few months. Then I can think of my writing as that of a stranger, the neighbor whose barking dog wakes me just as I’ve fallen asleep. I want it to irritate me because only then can I ferret out the weak parts for repair. I read with a plan and stick to the plan. I read it out loud twice (at least,) red pen in hand (OK, highlight key on the computer,) cutting and pasting as I go. Slash and burn if needed. Warrior mode channeled.

The first reading is to proofread for continuity of facts. I look for dates to line up on an actual calendar and the book’s invented calendar, make sure proper names are spelled the same throughout, ascertain that scenes show up in logical order, and insure an incisive action doesn’t get repeated a few chapters later. I watch out for lapses, diluted suspense (happens when a resolution is revealed too soon or with blah words,) and for carters in the plot that will leave readers confused or frustrated. Unusual words can only be used once and maybe should be swapped for words that won’t send folks to a dictionary. (However, I don’t shy from fifty-cent words; sometimes they are the ones that best fit a passage.) The first out loud reading will capture most of these mistakes.

The second reading is to gauge the physical sensation of the story. Does the story arc make me react, do I feel something intense when actions are described, am I sympathetic to the characters and their dilemmas, do I care enough about the complexities of the plot that I will spend time determining if it makes sense? My words must make my gut curdle and my hair spike high enough to hold up a halo, to make my teeth ache with the pain of being clamped in my jaw. If I didn’t write a story vigorous enough to wrest emotion from me, then who else will care what I wrote? It’s this last reading that will convince me it’s a decent book or a work I must improve before it sees daylight. Thespian that I am, I walk and read, sit and read, dream and read, emoting, whispering, quoting the words of my story, fixing, changing, polishing.

When I’ve read aloud until my voice is hoarse and my eyesight bleary, I’m ready for readers. Still they are at first only critiquers, the folks who get the free book in order to inform me what does and doesn’t work after all. They catch the oversights I should have caught. They are not the paying readers I hope will line the Amazon block to acquire my book. But I’m grateful to this hearty crew who read, think, comment, trying to help me get it right, make it better. I want the “critters” to know that if I’ve asked them to read my story – editor, agent, writer friend – I’ve put a great deal of effort into it. I’ve already read aloud it myself, many times. No one gets a sloppy “first draft” from me. I respect all readers too much.

My hubby who watched my peculiar dress rehearsal? He’s an unwitting audience and a true saint. He still thinks I belong in the nut dish.



Image of theater mask courtesy: Google images, Commons Wikimedia



Comments on: "Dress Rehearsal" (47)

  1. You read it aloud twice? Are you really able to keep those two times separate?

    I do not think I could do it with my husband about. I would need to be utterly alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In truth, hubby is usually not around when I start but sometimes walks in during a “performance” making it all the weirder for him. Since we married relatively young (at least emotionally) we did have to learn to live in the same house.
      Separate readings with a time space of about two months, and I’m aware of what I’m looking for. Thanks for stopping by, Glynis.


  2. I love this! Only my dogs see and hear my out loud edits. My husband has asked for me to read him my stories, but I demure. I don’t trust him enough, I suppose. My daughter-in-law wants me to do podcasts. Maybe one day. I’d love to be a fly on your wall, Shari! (can you do us a podcast?)

    Also appreciate the behind the scenes look at your editing style.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. We writers are all an assortment of nuts, and mix quite well together. I would love to be a fly in the room when you are in the midst of one of these edits. this is really good advice which I will be following as soon as I can get some time to even open the latest draft sitting on my desk, Maybe we should all just write plays?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve been very busy, Clare, with essential tasks. I really admire your current undertakings and I know you’re extremely busy.
      As for play writing, I took a college course and was surprised how different a mind set it required versus writing stories. Besides, there was always Shakespeare in the shadows, shaking his head and reminding me how far off I was. But when you finally have some time, I know Roxie will be your biggest fan.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “Reading aloud” is one of those suggestions I oft hear and never understand. Why does ‘read aloud’ work when no readers will hear the story in that way? Still, I know from personal experience, it works.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good to be skeptical, Jacqui, especially as I can only offer anecdotal evidence, nothing scientific. But I think it works because as the authors of our own work, our eyes skip over our errors, but reading aloud employs a different set of attention skills. First, we read more slowly out loud so we can sense the pace of our stories and understand what must get corrected. As in, did I really write all those silly, ineffective, mushy adjectives when none were necessary? Or, oops, I left out the part where it was the next week for my characters to be exploring Antarctica but it sounds as if this adventure happened immediately after the spaghetti dinner in Los Angeles. Guess I need a transition. Second, our voices catch errors our eyes have missed. I sometimes write the same word twice twice in a row, (did you catch it?) or change a tense accidentally or skip a necessary link or use the wrong proper name or change the spelling of a word by a simple one letter boo boo that Spell Check doesn’t spot. Case in point: in the previous sentence, I wrote “work” instead of “word,” an easy error for my eyes to miss but not my mouth which stumbled over it.


  5. I read mine aloud the same way. Tip for a sister-in-the-trenches: when your voice gets hoarse, whispering works just as well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • True about the whispering and it doesn’t interfere with the hand gestures and facial expressions. Plus, I get to be the actress I wanted to be when in high school before I realized I had terminal stage fright. Also, after effects of a college freshman theater incident too blue to write on my blog.


  6. Excellent advice that I put into practice for some forty years to my students, telling them to read their essays out loud because the ear will hear what the eye misses. It’s wonderful that you are able to be the actress you wanted to be years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Two thoughts: 1) Hubby will surely soon be able to recite it word for word! 2) Why don’t you ask Hubby to read it out loud? You might get some different insights. Or will that confirm to him that you belong in the nut dish?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m laughing, Denzil. Hubby is really not much interested in what I write – he’s hoping for income from my ramblings, not command performance or insight. As in, get published already.


  8. Dear Sharon…how much I look forward to reading your book. So pleasant to think, “Please tell me a story.” Your husband is a lucky fellow to be able to be present for the process. No “silent writer in the attic” are you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love how supportive Hubby is, Shari. I’m keeping this so I can read it again and again. For the advice, yes, but also for the sweet nature behind the characters/y’all found here. Lovely. xo

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I’m joining you in the nut dish. Your editing process is so similar to mine that your post could be mine. I wrote in my thesis about the value of reading out loud and my supervisor told me to take it out. I didn’t take it out but I decreased the length of it. Like you I think reading out loud shows up those little errors of grammar, where there might be confusion and stumbling over words, structure or meaning. My second read out loud I sometimes include someone else as listener, often my mother, as that person did not know what I was trying to say to start with. Our writing group (oh how I miss them) used to have a member other than the author, read the presented work as they did not know where inflections should be placed which can render a piece intelligible where in reality it is not.
    It sounds like you are almost ready Sharon. What book is it you are working on? I know I for one am looking forward to reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Irene, you have struggled with your thesis in so many ways that I would not have imagined. I thought advisors were supposed to be supportive and give unbiased but professional advice. Seems like you got saddled with at least one who wanted you to write your thesis her way – yikes! What a discouraging experience.

      I like that idea of having a listener but my books tend toward very long and the out loud reading occurs over many days. I’d probably have to pay someone to sit through all of that.

      I’ve started working on The Milkman’s Horse, based very loosely on stories my parents told me about their families. Very loosely because I’ve found that most of what my mom told me wasn’t true and my dad told me very little. Therefore absolute fiction inspired by a semblance of history. I need to put it aside for a year and work on getting the first three books published, but I’m trying to build the public platform that must be in place first. Computers make this both easy and complicated, and I’m not a techie person.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The public platform – a necessity but oh so difficult. It is so easy to get fired up about the new project (which I can’t wait to read) and so easy to let those others languish. Hopefully this year will be full of accomplishments for all of us and for you at least one of those books published.
        I wouldn’t ask anyone but my Mum to listen – a) it is a task she can manage with her physical difficulties and b) it gave us time together without me feeling as though I should be off working. I doubt it will happen again.


      • Irene, you are so right about being tempted with a new project rather than persevering with the difficult task of seeing the other ones to publication. Thanks for the reminder to get my priorities straight.

        Interesting comment about your mum. neither of my parents ever had any interest in what I was writing – they never asked me to tell them a thing about my books much less would they have tolerated me reading any of my writing to them. Though it only happened once for you with your mom, at least you have that one shared experience.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a reminder to myself as well Sharon. We’ll have to keep reminding each other.
        I know it will be a shared experience that I will treasure as time goes on. Roger has no interest. He doesn’t want to hear anything I’ve written. He says once it is published he will read it because then I cannot be influenced by anything he may say. I wonder whether that secretly means he doesn’t expect to ever have to read anything and gives me another reason to push along with publishing.


      • I always wonder about why my family is so disinterested. Busy lives for my adult sons, what with careers and young families demanding so much. Disinterest for my parents when they were capable of reading. My husband probably thinks my books rant as much as I sometimes do in the flesh. Writer families are a peculiar bunch – they put up with us creatives being completely absorbed by a product they can’t see, forcing them to invest in a nebulous dream more than is fair. I can’t wait to write that dedication page to my hubby, sons (and their families), and parents.


  11. Wow, your passion, dedication and eye to detail shine out in this post. You read the book out aloud twice!! That is impressive – and hope you have lots of hot drinks to hand. I have tried this with short stories and the method really does work, it’s always surprising how often you can read something, again and again but only when hearing it aloud does it jar, clangingly so! It was great to read about your editing process, Sharon, truly inspiring. Oh, as for being a nut, that’s creative types – an absolute necessity! 😀😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Annika. I consider the reading an editorial necessity and it feeds my need to be theatrical, so win-win. This wasn’t my idea, I know many people recommend it, but I also know it works from my personal experience.
      As for the nut dish – much variety and lots of room for all us creatives.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Shari,
    You could do a You-tube video with cartoon sketches that illustrate your story and no one will ever see your beautiful face (it IS beautiful) they will just hear your beautiful voice.

    Next time I hear you muttering I’ll just figure you’re almost done with your latest novel and not take it personally.

    Post is beautifully written – you could could do You-tube videos of your posts with drawings of course.
    Most of your subscribers don’t know what a wonderful visual artist you are in addition to having the “gift of gab”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Judy, you are my personal trainer in all things good for me – thank you for always being in my corner, always pushing me to do my best and stretch my limits. Everyone needs a friend (first written as “fried” – see what I mean?) like you. But – you are aware of my techie limitations AND I have little time for the art I really want to do. However, my original idea when first starting this blog was to provide my own artwork to accompany each post. You see how far I got with that one. Thank you for your sweet comments about my skills.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m impressed by your dedication to getting it right. I thinking reading aloud is likely to be an excellent way to go about things. I must admit, though, I think I’d find it difficult with any of my family members in the same apartment, let alone in the same room. I’m not sure I’d even feel comfortable doing it in front of our parakeet.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sharon – this post is gold!!!!! so true – reading aloud entails much work & swallowing of pride – but it is so worth it!

    another thing that’s hard to do, doesn’t make a lot of intellectual sense, & no one does — writing by hand, pen to paper. have found that in the long run, it can make my writing go faster & adds so much!


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