Saturday, February 25, 2012

Do You Read Your Writing Out Loud?

I had a very brief chat with another writer via Twitter the other evening who was working on that dreaded portion of any piece of writing: The Ending. I always struggle with ending anything - papers, essays, stories, novels. I find it difficult to balance between giving my piece the overly dramatic, grand finale it deserves versus being way too under-stated to the point that it ends up lackluster and disappointing. When writing blog posts in particular, I never quite know what to say at the end. "The question" is always a good wrap-up, so I've started utilizing that strategy, but before that, I'd always kind of meander off and hope no one noticed my awkward closing rambling. I often feel like I should tack on a "ta daah!" or a "that's all folks!" or some other cheesy tag line, just for a sense of finality.

Something that's always helped me, though, is to step back and read what I've written out loud. I'm always amazed at how much better it makes me feel when I read something out loud and am able to derive a logical conclusion from it. I think it's something we all subconsciously do when we read, anyways - if you are nearing the end of what you're reading, the tone you start interpreting is one of wrapping up, and it isn't nearly as odd as you think it is (being the one immersed in writing it).

For fiction or narratives, though, I think reading something out loud can make you feel even more self-conscious about the sometimes grandiose language you want to utilize to really drive your message home. That's when I take a deep breath and remember the ultimate test of melodrama: the movie announcer voice. Think about it - announcers use some of the most overly-dramatic, cliche, theatrical language we could possibly imagine. And yet, when we watch some of our favorite previews, we still get drawn in, hook, line, and sinker. We don't care that "these people are about to change the course of history" has been used countless times, because it sounds awesome - in context. 

I think this test is part of the reason my husband thinks I'm moderately insane. He'll often wander in and find me reading something enthusiastically out loud to myself. That's usually his cue to back away slowly and see if there's anything car-related on television to drown out my psychotic ranting. Possible mental illness aside, though, I do recommend this test if you are feeling self-conscious about your ending and want to see if it really sounds as ridiculous as you think it does. I've found it's often the set-up that matters more than how you ultimately phrase your ending, so lead into it a bit. Start reading from one or two pages before your problem area, and see if your dramatic ending is warranted, or if it sounds completely different from the tone building up to it. And if it still sounds utterly ridiculous when you read it in your best movie announcer voice, you may want to go back and edit a bit until it sounds right.

Do you read any of your writing out loud to yourself? Is talking to yourself crazy, or is it only crazy if you start answering back? Yes.

.....(ta daaah!)

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