Read it Out Loud

“Reading your writing out loud is like running the words through an error-sensor (which is not a real thing, but I think you know what I mean.” 

Jason Reed (aka, me)

A Beer-Napkin Primer on Country Mardi Gras + A Complicated Story on Blackface New Bayou Books

Mardi Gras post 2023
  1. A Beer-Napkin Primer on Country Mardi Gras + A Complicated Story on Blackface
  2. A Beer-Napkin Primer on Country Mardi Gras + A Complicated Story on Blackface
  3. Racing Towards Boredom; Personal Reflections on MLK Day
  4. Talking Blues
  5. Telling Stories, the New Bayou Blog for 22 November 2022

I recently paid an ameteur editor to help me with my second book, and the result was about what you would expect. She was a recent convert to the new religion of woke, and so instead of considering the characters in my story and the language they speak, she offered juvenile little dissertations about a lot of shit I’d never heard of, nor care to know about. “Magic negroes”, “P.O.C. characters,” and other such New Woke nonsense. So as I deleted the file and wrote off the money I had wasted, it got me thinking about how someone who can’t afford to let inexperienced moral do-gooders practice their virtue-signaling might approach editing for themselves. 

There’s only so much self editing you can actually do, of course. At some point before you publish, you’re going to need the services of a professional. Luckily for me, I haven’t just been entertaining fools in the last couple of months. I actually did find a fantastic editor, one who even has an ear for the language of South Louisiana, where all my stories happen. 

That said, I’m learning that there’s not only a lot you can do on your own, but that it’s important you stay true to your own sense of language and flow in your writing. Because nobody else really knows how you want the words to sound. At least for me, I’m trying for a sense of rhythm and musicality in my books that is . . . well, it’s kind of like obscenity. It’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it. 

Or, more to the point, when you hear it. 

Which leads to the singular point of this week’s blog (okay, I will admit that the secondary purpose this week was to take a few pokes at the confused millennial who tricked me into funding her new morality passion play, just to let off some steam) . . . but I’m over that now, so let’s get back to the main point. Which is, if you want to know if it’s good, read your stuff out loud. 

If you’re a writer and you’re reading this, you probably have tried it. And so you know what I’m talking about. But have you made a practice of it? 

I’m telling you, reading your work out loud is the very best way to highlight flaws in the language. It’s like some kind of magic scanner or something. Just run the words through the old reading test, and every mistake will reveal itself to you. 

I’m working on the third draft of my next book now. At this point, the language is pretty close to what I want, but it’s not all the way there, and reading out loud is proving to be very helpful as I go along. 

By reading aloud, this: 

The pallets at the center of the field had grown into a giant pyramid. An extension ladder leaned against the face of it, and there was someone at the top of the ladder with a long pole that Constance recognized as some kind of flag, just as he was raising it. At that moment, the two guys at the base of the ladder started shaking it, fucking with the guy on top, and he looked back to bark something at them. All in good fun, just cajun boys getting rowdy. 

The guy at the top shimmied down the ladder much faster than was safe and just as he reached the bottom, Constance noticed the flicker of light at the top of the stack. People started hooping and hollering in the fading light, and she joined in once she grasped what was happening. The smell of gasoline was front and center in her nose then, and as the burning rag at the top of the makeshift flagpole fell, she marveled at how wonderful and reckless these boys could be. 

Became this:

It was twilight now, and the small stack of pallets Constance noticed earlier had grown into a giant pyramid. There was an extension ladder leaning against it and the shape of someone at the top, fiddling with some kind of flag, was silhouetted against the sky. She saw the flicker of a lighter in the guy’s hand, and just as she came to understand what was happening, the two guys at the base of the ladder, there to hold it steady, started to shake the thing violently. She watched as the silhouetted figure grabbed the ladder to steady himself and then looked down at his tormentors to bark some kind of threat. But it was all in good fun. Just Cajun boys on a Friday night getting rowdy. 

The flicker of light appeared again and suddenly the guy at the top shimmied down the ladder much faster than was safe, and just as he reached the bottom, the flame at the top of the stack became a blaze. People started hooping and hollering as the fire started to trickle down the pyramid. Constance joined in. The smell of gasoline was in the air. Just then a current of wind pushed through the pyramid and the whole thing seemed to come to life at once. A roar from the campers went up. 

Granted, I changed a lot of the words around, and even did a wholesale rewrite of some of the sentences . . . but it was the reading aloud that got me to that point. 

Give it a try. It takes time, but I think it’s worth it. 

Speaking of giving stuff a try . . . , why not buy a copy of  Tattoos and Tans ? It’s way better than these blogs, I assure you!

Published by New Bayou Books

Jason P. Reed started New Bayou Books to spark a revolution in South Louisiana literature. The goal of the company is two fold: to discover great new writers from Acadiana while building a global community of readers and listeners. Join us! Sign the enlistment form.

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