As a grown woman, Kate, one of the daughters of Charles Dickens, recalled watching her father as he worked. When he was engrossed in one of his novels and in the throes of writing, he would speak the lines of his characters out loud and act out their scenes as if he were performing their parts on stage. In fact, Dickens loved performing in amateur theatricals; late in life he enacted all the characters in his beloved fable A Christmas Carol before packed audiences.
Another writer I met recently, Judith Lindbergh, started out as an actress and told me that when she was first working on her wonderful historical novel A Thrall’s Tale (see the post Greenland Beckons) she would walk around her house speaking aloud the dialogue of the three main female characters in her story in order to create a distinct voice for each one of them.
For most of us, writing isn’t just a solitary act, it’s also often a silent one. Words pour – or drip, depending on how good a day we’re having! – from our minds onto the page. Some of us may listen to music while we work, but most of what we do is voiceless. In the case of a play or screenplay, at some point a staged reading is often held. But with novels or short stories in the formative stages, this kind of opportunity isn’t usually available.
That’s one reason why taking part in an “open mike” program where you and others have the chance to “perform” polished pieces before an audience can be tremendously helpful in tightening up a work in progress. Reading your work aloud in preparation for this type of event can reveal its rhythm and flow – something that you can’t get a feeling for when reading your words silently on a page. Another approach: ask a friend or writing partner to read your piece aloud. Hearing your words spoken, you’re likely to find that awkward phrases or gaps in logic simply leap out at you and can be easily remedied.