I have just completed recording an audio version of my book The Elephants in the Room. It was an eye-opening experience. I’m astonished at the stamina of those who record books for publishers. Stephen Fry (UK) and Jim Dale (US) did it for all seven Harry Potter books, providing each character with a unique voice. How they managed to limit the number of mistakes so they aren’t still locked in the studio these several years later, I’ll never know. You’ve got to concentrate so that you read what’s on the page and not what you assume is in front of you. It requires a well-lubricated throat, wet lips, great breath control, and a fearsome attention to detail.
As I declaimed, I found myself cursing sentences that seemed perfectly weighted and wholly comprehensible on the page and in my head and yet became tongue-twisting baroque contraptions when I tried to articulate them. Now, I’m not going to rewrite works simply based on the facility I might need in a recording studio or on a podium, but the act of reading aloud reminded me of how useful the task is when in the end-stages of preparing a manuscript. Reading your work aloud accomplishes a number of tasks:
- It enables you to hear repeated words within and across paragraphs, which your eyes miss because they only concentrate on the text immediately in front of them.
- It helps you see whether you’ve made a persuasive case or you’ve got lost in the thicket of your own verbiage.
- It’s another way to find typos or wrong or missing words.
- It allows you to assess the pacing and tenor of the text. Are you reading it too angrily, morosely, casually?
Reading aloud isn’t fun. It can be tiring and dispiriting. When I read Elephants before publication, I would find myself lapsing into an interior monologue. It’s easily done, but it ruins the point of the exercise, which is to make the words “work” for your attention. Painful though it can be, it should be an essential part of the writer’s process—even if you let a professional actor read the finished product when it’s published.