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Listen to Your Words – Things to do While Writing

Did you ever hear the story about Shakespeare and the ‘Wherefore art thou, Romeo?’ line?

Legend has it that the aforementioned line was originally, ‘Where in cripe’s name is that swine, Romeo!?’

But like all good writers, William Shakespeare read his words aloud. Rumour has it he even wore a long blonde wig when he practiced this line for pitch and cadence. I really don’t care about the dressing-as-character bit. I don’t think you have to do that to ‘get into’ character. But you do have to read your words aloud. This is especially important when you’re writing dialogue. Even Shakespeare, who was ahead of his time using words like cripes, knew it just wouldn’t fly in the context of the above mentioned line. It’s cacophonous. By reading this line aloud, over and over again in his dusted blonde wig, Shakespeare came to the conclusion that editing was needed. Having whispered and shouted ‘Where are you, Romeo?’ he knew he still wasn’t quite there. Thank God he stayed with it. Because he did persevere, we have a line that is as popular in modern culture today as it was when the first drag-dressed actor bellowed it out on a stage in an Elizabethan theatre somewhere in jolly old England, or thereabouts.

Do yourself a favour. Pick up your most recent manuscript. Read it out loud from cover to cover (not just the dialogue, but pay particular attention when speaking for your characters). Listen for the awkward sentences, places where you stop because you get tongue-tied. Have a pen nearby. Read the awkward places out loud twice, three times, seven times—as many as it takes for you to chop away at them and get your words to ‘sound’ right. You’ll be amazed with what you discover.

Trust me, reading aloud is different than reading inside your head. Your ears will pick up on things better than the soft cloudy thought-scape of a mind that floats between them.

One healthy hint before I leave you – DO NOT choose to perform this exercise at your favourite Starbucks or Tim Horton’s or Panera Bread or any other place you frequent to write. You will be fitted for a tight, constrictive white coat faster than you can say, ‘Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” This is something you try in the privacy of your own home! Or, if you’re a playwright, try doing it on stage if you can get time alone in the theatre.

As writers, we all have to find THE WAY that works for us. There is no absolute way to do anything. But trying everything once is a great idea. You can find YOUR WAY if you keep an open mind. You may feel a little dorky the first time you try this. But try it, still. I’ve been doing it for some time, now. I find that it has really helped me as an editor of my own work. The ear is almost an unbiased reader. It doesn’t lie. It hears what it hears.

Happy writing! And happy editing! And happy talking to yourself, you freak! (-:

4 thoughts on “Listen to Your Words – Things to do While Writing”

  1. Great advice, Kevin. My dog is my favourite audience! I’ve even learned to interpret his various head-cocks. I pay particular attention to the parts where he plops down with his head on his paws – those are parts people skim:)

  2. I try new writing out on my wife. She has the patience of Job. Either that or the ability to tuen her ears off and yet still look interested.

    Definitely reading it aloud catches all sorts of mistakes that I missed in the 7-20 times I read it silently. A lesson learned in high school english class but ignored because i didn’t like English class. Man, I was a stupid teenager…

    Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite
    jest, of most excellent fancy.

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