Sunday, October 24, 2010

Say it proud, say those words out loud

If you really want to know if you've written something that resonates, try this little test: Read it out loud. Sure, you might feel a little silly, but do it anyway. It works.

We all know that the written word has its own cadence, its own rhythm and flow. But when we're caught up in the moment, in the drama or comedy of storytelling, we sometimes forget. We're so busy thinking about the story, we forget about the sound. And if our words trip up our readers, they'll never make it through the first few paragraphs.

Or we'll sound ridiculous.

Case in point: When I was writing one of the first drafts of Death on Deadline, (I cleaned out the basement recently and only then realized how many times I rewrote the thing), I had put in this scene where two of the main characters were in an area of the newspaper that used to be called the morgue. They were discussing their mean-as-a-snake editor, who'd just been taken from his office on a stretcher. They didn't know that a third character was standing in the dark, listening, until he spoke. They exchanged a few sentences, and then - caught up in the drama - I had the third character say this doozy:

"He's dead," he said instead.

I thought it sounded terse and dramatic - until I read it out loud. Only then did I realize it sounded like a morbid Dr. Seuss couplet. Naturally, I changed it.

Give it a try. You may be surprised what your words sound like coming from your own mouth.

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