Tuesday, August 9, 2011

8 How does your story SOUND?

Voice is one of those impossible-to-describe, yet oh-so important aspects that every novel must have to succeed, right? Right. We already know this, that's why my post for today isn't about voice. Not really. It's more about – what does that sound like?

Maybe you've heard this gem:

Read your manuscript out loud. Listen to what sounds off, what sounds good, what sounds just plain cray-cray. This is really good advice. Great even. And I've heard tons of authors swear by this technique for smoothing out all the things that need some WD-40. It's a technique that makes sense. It's a technique that lets you listen to the mechanics of your words like a reader will at some point.

But here's my confession: I sound like Kathleen Turner sometimes, especially when my sinuses are going through a "We Hate Cam" phase. Which is a lot lately. So yeah, every time I try reading my manuscripts out loud, I find that sometime within the first two or three chapters, my voice has dropped down to a murmur and I've started skimming the page, zeroing in on all the glaring errors so I don't have to listen to myself talk anymore.

But this post today is not about reading your manuscript out loud. Not really.

This post is about the performance of your manuscript.

What's the difference you say? Well, maybe not much to some people. But when your goal is to sell a book, you're not aiming to just sell the print or digital rights. You're aiming to sell all the rights, including audio and film. And what do audio and film rights have in common? They're performed. The meaning of your words has to come through loud and clear because this particular audience doesn't have the luxury of re-reading a sentence if they don't get the meaning the first time around. With this audience, if they don't catch it, chances are they'll either press Stop, leave the theater before the credits roll, or if you're real lucky, they'll keep listening/watching and hope whatever they missed wasn't too terribly important.

For the past month, I've been a pretty big Audible junkie. Mainly because I can drive to work, cook dinner, fold the clothes—all while listening to great stories. And there were some nights where I even found myself doing more laundry just so I could finish up a juicy chapter. But, uh, don't tell my husband this because I'm revising and don't want him getting used to nicely folded clothes. ☺

My point is that you have to consider how your words sound when someone else reads them aloud. Someone else who isn't trying to dissect your dialogue for awkwardness or scoff because you used 'blaze' when 'inferno' would've been a better choice. You have to listen to your manuscript for entertainment appeal. After all, the first stories were told, not written.

There are plenty of free text-to-speech sites where you can upload your document and see how it sounds when someone other than you reads it...although be warned that the voices can sound a bit robotic at times. Natural Readers or iSpeech are good options for those who, like me, cringe even when they have to record their cell phone voicemail greeting. But the more important thing isn't what you or AT&T Alice sounds like, the important thing is that you stay conscious of how your words act and sound together. Does it sound like something you'd want to pay more money for and listen to for 6+ hours?

Also, keep in mind not all stories that turn into books turn into audiobooks. So here's my tip: if you want to hear how stories can translate successfully* to the ear, listen to an audiobook. Then listen to two different audiobooks performed by the same voice actor. You'll notice it's the same sound, but different voice—this is the work of the author. This is how we recognize your voice. This is how we recognize you.

So, how does your story sound? Do you read your manuscripts out loud? Do you use text-to-speech software? Are you an audiobook fan? If so, what audiobooks really swept you up?

Happy Listening!

*I should also mention the selection of the actor can be so crucial because the wrong narration can equal dreadful results. Since you probably won't have much say in picking the talent, DON'T RISK the dreadful results. Make it easy for your future actor(s) to understand your intention so they can hit the right notes in their delivery.


  1. Good point about the first stories being told, not written!

    The only way I can really find the places where the story doesn't flow is to read aloud.


  2. Great suggestions. I love audiobooks too and listen to them when I'm doing chores, exercising, driving to work too. And I've found they really help me hear the voice of the characters. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I haven't listened to an audio book yet, although I have one sitting there waiting for me... :)

  4. This is an awesome post, I've never even thought of this before! Thank you!

  5. I did this for my last wip. I used the voice-to-text function on my computer, but ended up laughing too much at some of mispronouciations.

    As for the audiobook listener question: Nope. Don't like them. My mind drifts too much while listening to them. I need to see the written word. That's also my preferred learning style. :)

  6. I love the idea of performing your story!

  7. Hmm, I've never actually thought about my potential book as an audio book! (cringe) I've never listened to an audio book, actually--not sure I'd like it, because I DO like to go back and read things, and go at my own pace, while reading to myself. I like to see the words; I have trouble understanding some words spoken audibly (depends on the speaker).

    I try to read my novels aloud, yep. But I read an article on the blogosphere lately where it said sometimes the poetry and rhythm of a line can be read silently well, but you may stumble on it while reading it aloud. Something to ponder!

  8. Sound can count. I don't listen to audiobooks often (since I can read normal novels faster), but I enjoy the sound of it, the words.


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