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Creative Writing Fiction 2020-10-01 00:00

The Final Step: Reading Your Manuscript Out Loud

woman holding a book, looking over a view of a forest from above

Editing can be a tedious process. For authors, we put a lot of work into making our manuscripts the best they can be. But there are few things worse than that feeling of getting your book in print and seeing a glaring mistake.

I’ve never read a book that didn’t have at least one typo, grammatical error, or missing word. There’s no such thing as a perfect manuscript, but we strive to get close. And we have a lot of tools at our disposal.

I have a critique group and beta readers. I hire a line editor and a proofreader. And I use ProWritingAid at multiple stages in my editing process. But after all of this, I do one final step and still find issues!

Reading your manuscript out loud is one of the most beneficial steps you can take to publish a polished manuscript. It’s not just for finding typos – you’ll find consistency errors, flow and pacing blunders, unnatural dialogue, and more.

  1. The Brain Connection
  2. Find Consistency Errors
  3. Fix Flow and Pacing Issues
  4. Identify Unnatural Tone and Dialogue
  5. Check Your Spelling and Grammar
  6. Tips for Reading Out Loud

The Brain Connection

While reading silently and aloud use a lot of the same neural pathways, there are some additional benefits to verbalizing your writing. First, we read more slowly out loud than we do silently. That alone helps you to focus on the individual words and notice things you might miss otherwise.

Reading out loud also engages the auditory parts of our neural network. Hearing ourselves read allows more of our brain to work at the same time. We’ll pick up on more nuance and further increase our focus. If you want to take it a step further, record yourself and listen again. You’ll pick up on even more!

woman holding open book while looking at her computer

Find Consistency Errors

By the time our manuscript has been through several rounds of edits, our eyes miss things. After all, we know the story so well that we rarely do a thorough reading. The book lived in our head, so we overlook many errors because our brain fills in the correct details. This can lead to consistency issues.

Perhaps your character switched locations without a transition. You might have capitalized a word in the first half of the book, then kept it lowercase later. In my first book, I had a minor character that switched names three times!

Editors and proofreaders catch a lot of this. ProWritingAid's Consistency Check highlights inconsistency of spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, and punctuation. But editors are human, and editing software is a computer. Reading your work out loud allows you to catch big and small errors in consistency.

Fix Flow and Pacing Issues

One of the things I love most about ProWritingAid is that it catches my repeated sentence starts and even repeated words. But sometimes I accidentally skip a suggested edit or think I’ll fix it later – and then I don’t. Or perhaps I overuse forms of words that aren’t exactly the same, but it still sounds repetitive and clunky.

Reading out loud allows you to hear what your writing actually sounds like as opposed to what you intended it to sound like. You will catch repetition, awkward phrasing, and choppy sentence variety with a verbal read-through. For me, this is what I find most often when I read out loud. You might also get winded in a long sentence. That’s a sign your sentence is too long.

You can also find bigger issues with pacing when you read out loud. Maybe you read your entire battle scene in a minute and a half, but your characters discuss their battle plans for a really long time. These are some of the hardest issues to spot in our own writing, but hearing it aloud makes it easier.

If you find yourself wanting more in a scene, so will your readers. If you find yourself bored by a scene that drags on, your readers will be too.

Identify Unnatural Tone and Dialogue

Writers rely on our words for everything from characterization and plot to mood and tone. It’s only natural that sometimes we miss the mark. Reading aloud is a great way to pick up on sentences that don’t match the tone of your scene.

Maybe you have a setting description that reads light-hearted while you’re talking about a character who just died. Maybe you intended something to be sarcastic, but it sounds serious.

Dialogue is another area that’s easier to fix when you read it out loud. We can hear so clearly what our characters are saying in our heads, but sometimes it doesn’t translate to the page well. We can often make our characters say something that sounds out-of-character.

With both tone and dialogue, reading out loud allows us to apply the intended emotion and emphasis, ensuring that our intent matches the words on the page.

Check Your Spelling and Grammar

Even for writers who aren’t the best at spelling or grammar, you can still find errors that your editing program and proofreader missed.

Is there an unnatural pause where you put a comma or period? Did you mistype the character’s name? Do your pronouns make it clear who is speaking or being spoken about? These are all things you might find when you do a verbal read-through.

writer marking a manuscript with a red pencil

Tips for Reading Out Loud

Reading your entire book aloud might sound daunting, but I have a few tips to make it easier. First, I don’t think read-aloud software is the best option. It can be helpful for spelling and grammar, but it cannot read emotion or intent. Only a human can do that.

Here are my other tips:

  • Allow yourself several days to complete
  • Find a quiet space you can be alone
  • Read from a printed copy and use a pen to make corrections
  • Take frequent breaks or you’ll get tired and overlook errors
  • Have plenty of water on hand for your throat

Have you ever read your manuscript out loud? Drop a comment to let us know how it went!

Take your writing to the next level:

20 Editing Tips From Professional Writers

20 Editing Tips From Professional Writers

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This guide contains the 20 most important writing tips and techniques from a wide range of professional writers.

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.