When I worked as a writing tutor in college, we always had the students read their papers out loud to us. Most of them groaned when we told them that was how we worked, but once they’d done it and saw the pure genius of it, they were happy to do it the next time around. I still read out loud to myself when I’m editing, and I have my teenage daughter do it when I help her with essays. (Okay, she usually finagles her way out of it, but I always mean to have her do it.) Reading your work out loud is a great way to catch a lot of your own mistakes before sending it off to an editor. The more you can do on your own, the more your editor can help you take it to the next level without getting bogged down in grammar lessons.
Reading your story (or essay or any writing, really) out loud will do several things for you:
It will force you to slow down and read every word. Or at least, more than you would when reading silently. Our brains read much more quickly than we speak, and we often assume that words are there when they aren’t, or skip over a small mistake or repeated word, as our brains fill in with what we expect to be there. That doesn’t happen as easily when you’re reading at the pace of speaking. You’re more likely to catch those little things that you’d normally skip right over.
It will show you awkward wording. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll read a sentence out loud and stop to fix it. Students reading their papers out loud to me in the writing center would stop and say, “Wait, what?” when they realized what they’d written. I often wouldn’t have to say anything; they’d notice it and fix it on their own. We know what sounds good, but sometimes we don’t hear it in our heads when we write it, or when we read silently.
It will help you hear what you’ve only been seeing. I recently had an author tell me that she doesn’t hear names in her head when she writes them; she just sees them. So when people ask her how to pronounce her made-up names, she’s not quite sure. Lots of readers (like me) hear the words in their heads when reading, and it’s frustrating not knowing how it’s supposed to sound, or trying several different pronunciations and not landing one that makes sense. It’s distracting. Read it out loud and you’ll know if it sounds wrong or if it’s too hard to figure out the pronunciation. (On a side note, it would be ever so helpful if you’d put a pronunciation guide in there somewhere if you’ve created a world with crazy names!)
It will bring the dialogue to life. Go ahead, read it in your best accent and with feeling. Be the narrator and all the characters. Your dramatic side can’t wait! You might think a line of dialogue sounds great, but if you read it out loud and it just sounds cheesy, even when you try varying intonations, something probably needs to change. Dialogue walks a fine line between realistic enough to believe and fake enough to sound perfect, and reading out loud will let you know if you’ve achieved that balance. Make sure to pay attention to your descriptions of tone of voice and expression to be sure it’s what you meant to portray. Can you act it out? Does it ring true?
If you feel like a freak reading it out loud, do it when nobody is around. Or maybe it will be easier to read it to somebody. Maybe just the dog. Whatever helps you hear it more clearly will help you see it more clearly, maybe even in a new light.