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How not to serial 9


This is the ninth excerpt from David Armstrong's wry and entertaining How not to Write a Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author

9. Reading Aloud

'She reads at such a pace, ' she explained; 'and when I asked her where she had learnt to read so quickly, she replied, "On the screens at cinemas. "        Ronald Firbank


Reading work aloud is absolutely essential. There's something about hearing the words you've written, not merely within the confines of your imagination - in your head - but out in the air. Hearing them in this way helps you to tell whether all sorts of things are working - or not.

When you hear a passage of dialogue, even if the exchanges are pretty snappy and short (which I'd recommend generally, anyway) you can hear whether this is the way that people do (apparently) actually speak. I say apparently, because to commit actual speech to the page would be dull and irritating: most of us use far too many ums and ahs, and all sorts of hesitations and verbal tics.

The art, as a writer, is to render something which has the rhythm of speech, and which sounds like the exchanges that people do have, but to omit those tics and repetitions.

But it's not only dialogue that benefits from reading aloud. It's every bit as true for descriptive passages. Reading work aloud, you hear the pace and the tone of what you have written in a way that is entirely different from any 'internal' reading, and this will help you pick up redundancies and repetitions, and spot omissions in sound or sense.

So, when you are working on your novel, and you have written a reasonable chunk of material, give the work a day or two to 'settle', and then try reading it out loud.

There will be occasions when the prose reads flat or lumpy, the dialogue unconvincing and forced, and you might only be able to salvage a few paragraphs from half a dozen pages.

But there will be other times when you will find yourself pleasantly surprised. A sort of, 'Gosh, did I really write that?

Tips and summary:

1) Every few days, give your work a read-through - aloud.

2) Keep dialogue short, snappy and involving.

3) Beware of writing too much dialogue: it can be deceptively easy to write.

4) Try to give each of your characters a distinctive 'voice'.

5) Practice, so that you are at ease reading your work in public.

6) Always accept offers to give readings and do talks: it's good for the bank balance, and it's good to see what works (or doesn't) front of an audience.


The next excerpt from How not to Write a Novel will be in the January MagazineInteresting magazine with collection of book reviews and interviews with authors with an international flavour. 'Our mandate is to bring you interviews with authors from around the world as well as reviews of books written in all countries.' This includes an article on books about self-publishing.

About How Not to Write a Novel

The first excerpt
The second excerpt
The third excerpt
The fourth excerpt
The fifth excerpt
The sixth excerpt
The seventh excerpt
The eighth excerpt
The ninth excerpt
The tenth excerpt
The eleventh excerpt
The twelfth excerpt


© David Armstrong 2003

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