Today's pro editing tip is an oldie but goodie.
READ YOUR WORK ALOUD
It sounds too simple to be useful, right? How can reading your own work aloud possibly be helpful? I admit, that's what I thought before I tried it for the first time. Reading your words aloud can help you in a few different ways.
Over time, your words become so familiar to you that as you edit, you aren't really seeing them any longer. Reading them out loud makes your brain process the words in two new, different ways. First, when you read aloud, you read slower, and you focus on rhythm and emotion. And second, you'll also hear your words as you read them. So reading aloud often lets certain types of problems jump out at you, like:
Now, you aren't going to catch every possible punctuation error this way. But you will catch the big ones. You may have seen this example floating around on the Internet before:
Let's eat Grandma.
Let's eat, Grandma.
Now, unless you're writing about cannibals, you probably want that pause there. And that's the sort of thing that reading aloud can help you catch.
Rhythm in writing is a tricky thing. You want to mix up your sentence lengths. If everything is super short, it gets repetitive and your reader's attention can drift. (If any of you have early reader books in your house, go take a look at them and you'll see what I mean.) If all your sentences are long, you can give your reader mental fatigue. Especially if they have to dissect convoluted punctuated clauses to figure out who did what! Shoot for a little variety, and your prose will pack more punch.
Do all your sentences start with "MC did X"? Mine do, in my early drafts. And I never noticed until I read my work aloud at a critique group.
(By the way, reading aloud at a critique group is magical. Typos that have escaped a dozen revisions will mysteriously appear in your manuscript. You won't notice them until you're standing in front of a handful of strangers, all eyes on you. Guaranteed.)
and last of all:
TONGUE-TWISTERS AND FAVORITE WORDS
Are you writing a Dr. Seuss book, but don't know it? Does Sally sell seashells by the seashore in your work? Did your alliterative device cross the line from cool to corny? You'd be surprised at how many accidental tongue twisters or over-the-top alliterations might lie hidden in your manuscript. Or you may discover that you are a little too fond of using a particular word or phrase. We all do it; it's nothing to be ashamed of. But if you can catch it yourself and fix it before you send your work out, you'll look more professional.
So go on and try it for yourself. Kick everyone out of the house if you need to. Read aloud at midnight, when everyone else is asleep. Lock yourself in the bathroom. Or throw a dramatic reading for your family or friends, if that's your style! Make yourself comfortable and give reading your work aloud a try. It works.
Good luck and happy editing!
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!