"Indeed, there's a woundy luck in names."
I mean, honestly, wasn't my adorable, British-accented mental voice the best at the job?
Really. I mean it. For years I've swallowed whole the idea that reading your own work silently has exactly the same effect as reading it out loud. After all, you are the one that wrote the ruddy thing- shouldn't you be quite able hear in your head when a thing sounds out of place?
The minute I actually read Fly Away Home out loud, a strange and wonderful thing happened. First of all, it sounded a lot better than I'd even hoped. The adorable Brit in my head evidently doesn't understand Calida Harper the way my sassy American self does. Because that girl is full of vinegar when I read her. Not only was the dialog more fun, but it was easier to hear the mistakes.
A sentence that may be grammatically correct does not always roll off the tongue very well. Your analytic "brain" filter would read it as a job well done, but your more objective ear hears that it needs to be reworded for best impact. Another thing I realized in reading aloud that I had not noticed while skimming in silence was that Callie used Mr. Barnett's name far too much.
Take a section of dialog in your own book and read it. You might be surprised at how often your characters reference each other's names, and how unnatural this sounds. Think about it: in conversation with a friend or a family member, how often do you really use their name? Not often, I'll warrant. In real life, you rely on body language and eye contact to get the person's attention. Unless you are in a crowded room, there really is no need for you to conduct a discussion this way:
"I need to get this done today, Sarah."
"But Rachel, I'm using the computer."
"Rachel, I'm in the middle of a blog post!"
Right. So you get the picture. (And may I remind you that my dialog was not this cheap in FAH). In fact, think about the impact of names the world over. In the past, naming a place, a person, or a thing has been a ceremonious business-a thing people attach much importance to. In the Jewish culture you didn't name a child till the eighth day of its life. In Genesis, God gave Adam his name, and Adam (in turn) gave Eve hers. Throughout the day a little child is generally called by a nickname or a first, but if little Sophia gets into mischief, you can be assured it will no longer by "Sophy," but "Sophia Adella Hawkins!"
Names add punch, so to use them as little as possible to is to make the times you do use them that much more powerful. In normal, amiable conversations, I edited the scenes so Callie hardly used Mr. Barnett's name. But there are moments when she does use his name that are all the more poignant for it. Moments when she adds his name onto a question because a name gives her something to cling to, and she is drowning in a confusion. Until I caved and read my work out loud, I hadn't noticed how I'd cheapened the power of names.
But if reading aloud helps with editing, it is also a glorious exercise in professionalism. See, I have a complex. I can write all day long about my writing on this blog, on Facebook, in emails to relative strangers, and have not the slightest qualm about it. I'm not nervous, I'm not peckish. But the moment a member of my family asks about my writing--what my book is about, what the themes are, what the plan is-- or if they peer over my shoulder while I am writing, I freeze up. I can't think straight, and a fierce grouchiness comes over me. I think this phenomenon can best be described as bashfulness. As much as I love all of you, you are one dimensional to me. I don't live with you, I don't work alongside you, I don't give you a hug every morning when I come downstairs. I suppose the long and short of it is (without any disrespect for you) that your opinions hold less weight than my family's. I believe that is why I get nervous when my family wants to read my books aloud. I absolutely hate it.
Why do I hate it?
What is it to me if they read what dozens of you read on my blog every week?
I really don't know, and this is a thing I'm trying to get over. I am so awkward at home over my writing. Perhaps it is because I find it harder to speak what I feel than to write it. I can write my thoughts on what my book is about at great length here, but I can't express it in a handy sentence in reality. I sit there squirming like a worm in a pecan shell when my book is being read not because I'm afraid they won't like it, but because I'm unaccustomed to hearing my own words outside of my own head.
Speaking a thing, like speaking a name, has great power. You may have a world inside a world inside your head, but until you speak of it, no one else can share in the wonderment. Reading your own work out loud and just listening to the flow of story and sentence is a great way to practice graciousness. It seems ridiculous to think that you'd have to practice gracious acceptance of your own creations, but for me it's a real dilemma.
How do you deal with other people reading your work?
Do you read your novel aloud when editing?