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Monday, March 16, 2009

Reading Your MS Aloud by Cecelia Dowdy

In 1994, Cecelia began writing for fun, and didn't stop until she sold her first inspirational romance novel. She has sold thirty-seven short stories to several national women's magazines, but hopes to one day realize her passion to sell a young adult work of fiction. Currently, Cecelia resides in Maryland wither her husband and son.

One of my fondest childhood memories involves sitting on the living room couch when I was six years old and reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss aloud. The rhyming sentences were entertaining, and the enjoyment of reading the story made me laugh, and I was proud that I could finish a whole book.

As an adult, I realize most of us no longer read stories out loud, but, by reading your stories vocally, you may see places where your novel may be inundated with too many descriptions or wordy phrases. Once your manuscript is ready to submit, it should have a rhythm that sounds pleasing when read out loud.

Am I saying that your work should rhyme like Dr. Seuss books? No, but it should be smooth, sounding enjoyable to your ear.

An editor once mentioned that my writing was too wordy in some spots and she suggested I read my manuscripts out loud before turning them in. She said that reading them this way would help me to spot the wordy, redundant places, allowing me to revise those spots so that they read smoothly.

For example, in one of my novels, the following phrase was flagged as being too wordy:

The streets were full of tourists, trekking around the busy sidewalk. “So, how did you happen to be living here in Ocean City if you were raised in Annapolis?” There was still so much about Karen he didn’t know, and his mind felt like an eager sponge, wanting to soak up all of the knowledge he could find about Karen Brown.

Here is the revised sentence: As Karen gave him directions, Keith noticed the streets were full of tourists, trekking around the busy sidewalk. Curious about Karen’s past, he asked, “So, how did you happen to be living here in Ocean City if you were raised in Annapolis?”

Doesn’t the second paragraph sound better and more concise? To me, the part about the eager sponge didn’t sound quite right. When an author reads his own work silently, they’re so close to the project that they might not see any awkward words or phrases. If you read your manuscript out loud, strange-sounding things may jump out at you, making you pause while reading. If you find yourself stopping because something doesn’t sound right, then it’s a sure sign you need to change the sentence so that it flows better!

Another problem I’ve had with my writing is using the same words and phrases over and over again. Reading aloud helps solve this problem. You can then stop, delete some of your words, and/or restructure your sentence.

So, before you turn in your next project, get a big cup of water, sit in a comfy chair, and start reading your book out loud. This exercise will make your book a more pleasant read, and the acquiring editor will appreciate your efforts!

Karen Brown is angry at God, and at herself, for falling in love with Lionel Adams, her ex-fiancĂ©. When her beloved suddenly disappears, along with thousands of dollars stolen from their mega-church, she re-locates back to her hometown in Annapolis Maryland to live with her mother. She’s stunned to discover handsome plumber Keith Baxter living next door.

Keith is smitten with Karen, but wonders if she’s still in love with Lionel. He wants Karen to accept him into her life, but he doesn’t know if he’d be a good match for her due to his troubled past. Can Karen forgive Lionel, and let the Lord back into her heart?


  1. Thanks for letting me guest blog today! It was fun! If anybody has any further questions about reading your manuscript out loud, or anything else writing-related, feel free to leave a comment and I'll respond!
    ~Cecelia Dowdy~

  2. I love reading aloud. My writing and others. I even attempt all the accents. Hilarious! I agree that the ear picks up the rough spots the eye can miss. It's great for polishing dialogue. If it doesn't sound right coming out of your mouth, it might could some tweaking. :)

    Your book sounds good. Just seeing those Maryland names brings back memories. My old stompin' grounds.

  3. Hi, Lori! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Maybe my books will give you a nostalgic feeling about your old stomping grounds!

  4. Great post. Yes, reading aloud really helps. My sweet hubby listens to me and while I'm reading to him, I find many issues to correct in the MS.

    It's a great technique. In one of my crit groups, we have someone else read snipets from our projects and then critique them as a group. It's really great.

    Thanks for sharing. :-)

  5. I agree that reading aloud is a great way to really hear your story in a new way, and hear those repetitions, etc. But I have to disagree about the second paragraph being an improvement. I think the first version was more creative, and written in a more showing-instead-of-telling, and deep-POV manner than the "concise" paragraph.

  6. Great advice, Cecelia! I need to do that more myself. It certainly makes a difference.

  7. This is very good advice Cecelia. I've purposed to do this as a regualar part of my writing protocol.

    Thank you for sharing.


  8. I've tried this a few times, Cecelia. Great article.

  9. Hi Cecelia!
    I always read my stuff out loud. It's a great way to find different mistakes than our eyes detect. And unfortunately, I share your problem with words that clump. I'm always trying to say TOO much in one poor sentence. Will I ever learn?

  10. Thanks for joining us, Cecelia. Reading an ms out loud is a very important trick for new writers to learn. I resisted doing this for so long, but am constantly amazed how much easier it is to do editing (which I hate!) when I'm reading out loud.

  11. I'm glad so many found the information useful. And, Anonymous, you are entitled to your opinion regarding the example I stated in the article. Personally, I preferred my second sentence, and the first sentence was flagged by the editor as being too wordy, so I had to change it!

  12. Editors always have a valid reason for pointing out these things and, though an author can defend their word choice, style, or sentence format, doing so on a frequent basis can put them at risk of becoming labeled a "problem" author.

  13. Reading out loud is such a great idea, but I find that I tire out after four or five chapters. I know a lot of people have suggested using voice readers so that they can listen to how their book reads without getting all tuckered out. Either way, hearing your book is such a great idea. Excellent suggestion!

  14. I read out loud daily, but that's because I work with children. In fact, since Dr. Seuss' birthday is in March, we've been reading his books all month.

    I feel like a dork when I read my own work out loud. I've tried the automated readers you can download, but they sound so stilted. I guess I'll have to pay the money for a real sounding person.

    Great advice, Cecelia!

  15. Sharon and Lisa, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I've heard about the automated readers. Authors have told me that they use the voice readers because they get tired of reading aloud after awhile. I've never used one, but, if the voice sounds stilted, then I don't think I'd like them very much.

    My husband is totally blind, and he has special software that's hooked up to a Braille display so that he can read stuff on the internet. He has the option of changing his software from Braille display to voice. He's done it a couple of times. It sounds horrible - a computerized synthetic voice! Yikes! That's why he prefers using the Braille display.


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