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Reading Aloud: Author Open Mic Night Doesn’t Have to Suck — 7 Comments

  1. Well worth having these thoughts! Thanks. Yes, of course reading is performance, in spades- maybe not every author should try to read aloud for audiences. Personally, as an old theater hack I LOVE it- I do the voices, sing where there are songs, gesture, pause, very Shakespearean. I love my tales, and I love to read them aloud.

    But every notion you have here has a potent flip-side I’d like to point out. Authors without exception should be reading their work aloud AS THEY DRAFT! Go back in quiet times and look at that previous chapter and read it aloud. You will uncover repeat words, unneeded clauses, tangles of logic, and more. You don’t have to be James Earl Jones, read it to the cats, to the mirror, whisper it to yourself, doesn’t matter. But do it BEFORE you publish and do it all the time. The best stories, I am absolutely convinced, can all be read aloud. Don’t save the cutting and trimming you mention for the live audience. Put the best and most concise prose before your readers too.

    • Absolutely. Reading aloud is an excellent editing technique, but I also think some excellent writing is sometimes better off sacrificed to the gods of successful live performance. Even after a thorough edit, the stage is different from the page. Make the message fit the medium. Thanks for your comment, though. You raise an excellent point.

  2. Authors reading their own work makes me cringe, with few exceptions. If I hear on NPR that “coming up next, [insert author here] reads a passage from his/her book,” I can’t change the station fast enough. You make several good points, including that reading aloud is a performance. I ask, Where is it written that the best person to read something is the person who wrote it? I doubt anyone would want to see their favorite TV characters portrayed by the people who write their dialogue. Have a fan read your work, or maybe better yet pay a theatre major a couple of bucks to read it. Cheers!

    • When I did the audiobook version of my memoir, I used Amazon ACX to connect with a professional voiceover artist. I did struggle at first with the idea that my story wouldn’t be told in my own voice, but readers don’t know what I sound like, anyway. The audiobook was produced to a high standard and I’m happy with the results. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Thanks, Dave: Your advice should be taken to heart by every author, everywhere; no exceptions. I, too, have been to innumerous readings where I wanted to bring out the hook (truth be told, I had moments when I wanted to do something much more drastic than that); the most vivid example being when Joan Didion read from her book Year of Magical Thinking…, I literally couldn’t believe that nobody in the audience walked out as she continued to drone on in her monotone. After that experience I said to my husband to count me out from further readings. But then the Magic happened: a best-selling author who didn’t read at a reading!

    Erik Larson (In the Garden of Beasts) announced at the beginning of a presentation before several hundreds of people that he didn’t like readings, and therefore he was not going to read. Instead, he talked about the process of the book, which included the exciting travels to do research.

    Finally, I said to myself, an author who respects both the time and intelligence of his audience. I made a note to myself, and have also passed it on to authors with whom I’m friendly so that they could change the plan for their readings. Now, if only the rest of the writing world would take note of Dave’s advice! Thanks again.