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For reading out loud!

I met Wayne Hughes in a Facebook group and was intrigued by his perspective on book narration. In addition to being a narrator who specializes in book-length projects, he is a freelance writer and editor. His background is in journalism, theater, and broadcasting. Learn more about Hughes on his website or Facebook Page.  

For reading out loud!

By Wayne Hughes

When I was a cub newspaper reporter, we called the night editor “knuckles.”  We’d turn copy over to him, proud of getting it on his desk before deadline.

When he saw a problem, he broke young reporters to his way of doing things by standing, shoving aside the mounds of teletype paper, empty coffee cups and ash trays brimming with half-smoked cigars, leaning over his desk and supporting himself on his knuckles.

We knew what was coming, so we tried not to make eye contact.

“Hughes, g**damnit!  Have you read this?”

My timid newcomer response: “Well, yes, I read it through.”

“All right, everybody, shut the hell up!” he’d yell.  Here it came:  “Hughes is going to read to us now.  Go on, do it.”

It was the worst possible embarrassment for a young reporter. He expected it to be read out loud, above the din of typewriters and phone conversations. It was his way of focusing on the readability of even the driest car chase.

It was his contention that anything written should sound right or the reader wouldn’t get all the information. I only had to do that once to get the point.

Ever since those days, I’ve tried to read everything I’ve written out loud. It’s amazing how typos, verb-tense disagreements, and incomplete sentences come leaping off the page when vocalized. Now that I’ve embarked on a second career as a book narrator, it’s even more important.

Speak the speech, I pray you

The importance of reading out loud is stressed by the University of North Carolina’s Writing Center:

  • Listeners appreciate order – Listeners can’t go back a couple of pages or paragraphs to pick up the thread. Thoughts must come in a predictable order.
  • Train for transitions – A writer must become disciplined in helping the reader move from one idea to the next, without fragmentary or run-on sentences.
  • Eliminate the errors – Typos sound silly if they look silly on the page, even though you felt you’d caught them all.
  • Keep it simple – Grammatically incorrect sentences sound worse than they look.
  • Listen to yourself – If you’re not on deadline, have a helpful friend read to you. This gives you a chance to “stand off” from your work and give it an objective “listen.” If not, consider text-to-speech software.

Read it before I do

Case in point: I’ve rarely turned down a narration assignment until I’ve waded all the way in. Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine how “voiceable” a piece will be from just the audition excerpt or even the “first 15” as required by Amazon Creative Exchange (ACX).

Love is blind and so is the author who’s so in love with his subject that he can’t see the trees for the underbrush of misplaced nouns, verbs, and subjects. I remember an assignment that looked interesting at first blush and read well enough until it became obvious the author was suffering from “wandering parentheses.”

He would start a paragraph with a solid-enough topic sentence, but immediately offer a parenthetical aside which ran on for one or more paragraphs before the over-stretched thought of the sentence was picked up. I tried to work with him to salvage his prose by cutting back on the parentheticals, but inevitably pulled out of the job. If for no other reason, it was impossible to draw sufficient breath to voice the run-on sentences before light-headedness set in. And, fundamentally, it’s not the narrator’s job to edit.

He clearly had not read any of his work aloud and was not about to. He let me know he was just too sophisticated for such a thing. In contrast, you can hear excerpts of some easy-to-voice works on my web site.

book narratorSounding good

Give narrators a hand. If you’d like your readers to hear your work as well as read it, please read it aloud.

Rewrite, reread, let it sit and reread again. You sound good when narrators sound good.

And yes, I read this aloud, several times.

What questions do you have for Wayne Hughes about audio books? Ask them in a comment!

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  1. Wayne,

    Thanks for this wise advice. I don’t like recording my own work because of the urge to rewrite as I go. I never thought my reluctance may stem from some of the the problems you’ve noted.

    Even after it’s been edited, it seems my work can benefit from being read out loud before having it narrated or published.

    1. There’s one very good reason for not recording your own work: it doesn’t sound like you. About 70 percent of how we perceive our voice comes from what we hear through our lower jaw, sinuses and nasal cavity. Everyone I know who’s heard themselves recorded the first time swears it’s not them (that included me).

      Give a 250 word sample to a friend and have them read it to you. You’ll get a better idea how its sounds when it’s “not in your own skull.” Also, I’m not sure why, but I seem to get a better notion of how the prose sounds by having my wife read it to me. So, you might want to put a male acquaintance in that role.


  2. Wayne,

    Wow! Thanks for even more great advice.

    Now I have more motivation for finding a significant other. Maybe I’ll hold an audition with each candidate reading a 250 word sample from my book. Hmmm. Maybe I should add a few more criteria.

  3. Thanks for a great post. More writers need to do this!

    I used to read all my work out loud, but I still missed things because I sometimes “read” what I intended to write and not what I actually wrote.

    Now I use text-to-speech software and let my computer read to me. For me, that is much more effective.

    1. That’s a great tip, Peter. Thanks for sharing that here. Listening to your book as it’s read to you must be an interesting experience.


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