When I ask my students if they read their papers out loud before submitting them, they usually give me a strange look, a look that seems to ask, “Well, why would we do that? What benefit will we get from that?” The answer is “A whole lot,” I tell them. Granted, my students are college freshmen who probably do not print out their papers to proofread, let alone read them out loud before they hand them in.
There are three main benefits to reading your writing out loud:
You finish your writing piece. You think it is good to go, so you send it out. A few days a later, you look at it again and cringe because you notice a typo. Once you notice a few more typos, you ask yourself, “How did I miss that?”
Strangely, sometimes when you read your work silently your brain will often auto-correct words and sentences. Think of how your brain works when you play word scramble. Although the word is scrambled, you are able to figure out what the word is. Now try saying that same jumbled word out loud. It does not unscramble as easily and sounds strange to your ears. Your ears can help you catch things your eyes cannot. It is true. Your ears can tell when something does not sound correct.
Finding the Right Rhythm
I am a big believer in rhythm’s ability to help prose shine. The same way your ears can catch grammatical errors is the same way your ears can tell when a sentence sounds off. Hence, even if a sentence is grammatically correct, reading it out loud might also help you find a way to arrange the words in such a way your prose sings. If it sings to you ears, it will sing to the reader’s.
Dialogue is key. When you read work out loud, you can tell when dialogue sounds unnatural. If the dialogue sounds stiff and unreal to your ear, it will come across stilted to the reader. Additionally, reading it out loud allows you to play with voices, cadences, and dialects.
I also recommend recording yourself. I had the opportunity to ask famed author Walter Mosley questions about his writing process. He mentioned recording himself as a way to revise. When you record yourself then play it back, you will hear your story. You will hear if it makes sense, what is needed and not needed, and if your scenes drag on for too long.
Do not be afraid of your own voice! Think of reading your work out loud as another step in the revision process. Our goal as writers is to rework our work until it is in its best possible version.