Okay – so not everyone can afford to have Ellen Degeneres read their book out loud, but there’s a lesson here. If you read your work aloud, you’ll see (and hear) all sorts of potential problems you couldn’t find otherwise.
Reading out loud forces you to read every single word; when reading silently to yourself, there will be words, sentences and even whole paragraphs you skip over. You might not even realise you are doing it, but you will.
When reading aloud you will (in no particular order):
- pick up on the natural rhythms, language, speech, sense of time and place and so on
- get a sense of what feels right and wrong, much more readily than if you keep the words to yourself
- notice the words you overuse
- become acutely aware of clumsy expressions
- know which sentences are too long when you run out of breath before you get to the end
- have a more immediate feel for the pacing, either because it moves too fast or too slow, with not enough beats for you to take a moment’s rest from the plot
- notice problems with your characters (eg, are they distinguishable from one another?)
- notice information dumps; the places where you do too much telling and not enough showing
- feel bored if there are no, or too few, variations in tension
- know if you really like and identify with your protagonist, over and above your minor characters
- notice if major plot points are not given enough prominence
- know if you have tied up loose ends
This is not a comprehensive list, by any means, but it should give you a better sense of what you are looking for, and hopefully convince you that reading out loud is a good thing.
Of course, you might not find any problems with your manuscript and feel that the whole experience of reading aloud was a waste of time… maybe that's what EL James thought too...