One of the many great perks of being a writer is the wonderful fellow travelers you meet. Among my writing compadres is Carl Selinger. Carl is a Renaissance man — an engineer, teacher, photographer, pundit, and published author. He’s also one of the founders of the Write Group, a wonderful community resource in my town — and he’s a fount of wisdom and wit when it comes to all aspects of the writing game.
After attending many events in tandem, we finally managed to sit down for a cup of coffee, a muffin, a smoothie, and a writerly chat. We covered the waterfront. At one point, I mentioned that my writer’s group, the Working Title Six,
was about to give a fiction reading at our local bookstore.
Now, luckily for me, Carl is an old pro on the reading front. He often hosts open-mike events and right off the top of his shiny, super-smart head, he gave me some very helpful tips about keeping an audience engaged that inspired me to totally rethink the passage I was planning to use. Just in case they might be helpful to anyone who’s preparing for a reading — or thinking about one — I’m passing on Carl’s excellent advice:
Timing is important: After watching the clock for many events, Carl has found that people often rush through their selections. Reading prose aloud at a rate that’s easy for listeners to absorb and leaves you time for dramatic pauses takes roughly 2 minutes a page. Since I have 10 minutes for my reading, I’ve selected a scene that’s 5-6 pages long.
Keep back-story descriptions to a minimum: Audiences get antsy if there’s too much set-up before you start reading. Giving a long, complicated prelude to your selection can distance your audience from the impact of your story, so keep it simple!
Choose your read-aloud passage carefully: Capturing and retaining an audience’s attention is the name of the game. Carl suggested that I choose my selection from among 3 audience-friendly options:
1) the beginning — this eliminates the back-story issue.
2) a passage that reveals my main character emotionally
3) a scene that’s self-contained yet leaves the audience hanging
Readings can be fun and offer fruitful feedback. To reap the full benefit, it’s important to keep your listeners in mind and give them a good show. Thanks, Carl. And write on!