Reading fiction aloud can sound like music. Reading prosody, is the term for that musical style of reading. In other words, it’s reading with expression. And reading with expression is how to be awesome reading your story aloud.
But as a writer, we spend a lot of time alone with our thoughts and our keyboards. Preparing to give a reading can be daunting. You’re filled with questions and doubts. Where do I start? What do I read? How much do I read? How do I get through the reading without sounding like an idiot? What do I wear? Stop. Take a breath. This is your guide on how to be awesome reading your story aloud.
First hint: Don’t hide behind your book.
Talk to Your Host
Preparation begins with knowing more about what’s expected. Ask your host: will you be sitting or standing? At a table or a podium? Will you use a microphone? Do you check in? When and where? Is it okay to sell books after the reading? Can you ask for signups for your email list? Is it okay to bring props or bookmarks? How long are you expected to read?
Sometimes how long you read is a set amount of time chosen by your host. Sometimes you get to choose. If you have a choice and are a first timer, it’s a first novel, or you can’t/don’t want to be on stage for long, choose a 20-30 minute reading time.
Decide on What Your Reading
First, know your audience. Read from the book that suits their niche. Next, find a section of your book that reflects the tone of your book, one that needs little set up, and contains interaction between two characters with different goals. It can be a funny section, a sad section, or an action/suspense section. Long sections of backstory or description do not work well when reading aloud. Aim for a length that will give the audience a feeling of a complete scene. Sounds hard, doesn’t it? Make several choices. Play with them a little.
Read your choices aloud one-by-one. Occasionally, you’ll find that the section you love the most is the least entertaining to read aloud. Choose the one that is the most entertaining to listen to. (you may need a friend to listen and help you decide) Chances are you’ll hear one aloud and realize it’s the best choice. When you’ve made your choice, it’s time to move on to the next step.
Prepare Your Manuscript
If your reading selection needs some setup, write one. Make the story introduction as entertaining as the storytelling. Devote no more than two or three short paragraphs to the setup. Shorter is better.
You may need to revise your reading selection a bit to take out the narrative that slows the oral storytelling down, or to make sentences easier on the tongue. That’s okay. Do it.
Print out your selection (Don’t read from your electronic device it’s too easy to lose your place.) Make sure your manuscript is double-spaced with wide margins and an easy to read, large font. I use 14 pt, Ariel. Use what makes it easy for you to read.
Read it aloud again. Record this reading. Then listen to the recording. As you listen, mark places on the manuscript where you need to use an emotional tone. Mark words that you tend to stumble over. There will be places where you should slow down or speed up. A time when you should lower and raise your voice. Devise a consistent method of marking these places so you remember what those marks mean. I write a note to myself at the top of every page: “Slow Down.” When nervous, most of us speak faster and faster. This reminder does the trick for me. Secure the pages together. You don’t want a page to go missing in the middle of a reading.
Decide what you will wear—something that represents your characters or setting? Something dressy or very casual? Whatever you choose, make certain you are comfortable wearing it. Choose something that you feel you look your best when wearing it. How will you style your hair? Makeup—yes or no?
Decide what props you will bring. Published book(s) or cover flat(s), bookmarks, and business cards are a good start. You can have story-related props on display. Giveaways can entice people to come to the reading but they won’t necessarily be readers. Treats may be something you’d bring. Know how and where you will display your props.
Be prepared to introduce yourself. —It doesn’t have to be more than a line or two. Certainly no more than 5 minutes. Practice introducing yourself. It can feel awkward at first. Practice it until you’re comfortable.
Make a marketing plan for your reading—let your readers know that you’ll be doing the reading. Remind them several times. Ask friends to be there to root for you.
Be prepared for the possibility of no audience, a tiny audience, and a humongous audience. There’s no predicting what will happen unless you’re as well known as George R.R. Martin.
Practice, Practice, Practice
- Use your timer so you can pace your reading
- Have a glass of water at hand
- Record your practices.
- Listen to the recording—are you speaking loud enough? Are you enunciating clearly?
- If you are not adept at changing voices ala an impersonator, don’t try. You can change your volume, your tone, or the pace with which you speak to indicate different characters.
- Do what your characters do—shake a fist, whisper, smile, frown, whatever.
- Match the emotion in your face and voice to the words you’re reading.
- Use a timer. If you typically read a little long, try trimming words out of the manuscript. If you read short, add more pages or even another scene.
- Stop the reading at a place that will make your readers want more. (That’s one of the ways to be awesome reading your story aloud. )
The Day Before
- Make certain you have your props, your manuscript, your props, and your clothes laid out.
- Verify the location and time of your reading.
- Don’t practice this day. Relax. Do whatever you enjoy and will help you relax. Get your hair done? A manicure? A movie?
The BIG Day
- Double check that your props, your correct manuscript, your props, and your clothes are ready.
- Take a drink in a spill-resistant container. Water or tea with a little honey and lemon will help soothe your throat and voice.
- Get ready and be at the venue 10-15 minutes early.
- Check the layout. Are the microphones working? Test and adjust the microphone to best amplify your voice as you read.
- Set up your props and/or giveaways.
- Smile. Breathe. It will be okay.
- Connect with your audience. Sit in an open, friendly way—in other words, don’t cross your arms over your chest or clench your fists. Make eye contact. Say hello. Thank your audience for coming.
- Introduce yourself.
- Take a breath. You’ve got this. Read.
- Some members of your audience will love it even if you read the phone book. Be prepared for people to get up and move around during your reading. Don’t let it throw you. Someone will be intrigued by your book. That someone is your reader. Smile at that one!
- Pause at the end and smile again. (Did you get applause? AWESOME!)
- Thank your audience for their attention. (You will want to send a written thank you to your host after it’s over.)
Remember that reader, the one who hung on every word? He thought you and your story were awesome. That’s a great feeling, isn’t it? Hold onto that feeling. Reading aloud is one of the many ways writers can connect with readers. In fact, it can get a little addictive. (Ask me how I know.)
I will be at ConQuest, a science fiction convention this weekend. I’ll be reading from my debut novel, My Soul to Keep, on Saturday, May 26th at 3 pm. I’ve done all the things listed above and I know I won’t give a perfect reading. I’m human. I’ll stutter or mumble. But I also know there will be that one person in the audience that gets it. So when you prepare to read your story aloud remember. No matter how many times you stumble over a word, or fumble a page-turn, you will be awesome reading your story aloud to somebody. And be ready to do it all over again.