I have always read back my own work, mainly to ensure that it doesn’t sound stupid and has a natural flow. Reading out loud always results in changes to the draft. This habit came from the zillions of scripts I’ve written or read, in which getting the spoken word wrong would inevitably result in hasty re-writing on set and a measure of embarrassment.

So this surprised me.

I thought everyone did it. It is a necessary form of self-abuse, humbling and gratifying by turns. The delight of hearing your words, crafted so patiently, spoken by an actor or voice-over artist is almost as life-affirming as a tot of 21 yr old Caol Ila single malt. The humiliation of hearing an actor struggle to inject life into clunky, irrelevant, badly honed or simply turgid words is a humiliation akin to being found in flagrante delicto with a tree sloth. Not that the latter has ever befallen me. We were always very careful.

I understand Caitlin Moran’s problem. When we write prose it can be ‘stream of consciousness’, uncensored and unfettered by petty considerations of morality, grammatical correctness, self-harm or even whether it makes sense. We are so pleased with ourselves, are we not? The act of getting any words onto paper or into digits is no mean achievement, we say. And of course some of it will need editing, but surely it is almost perfect, as it was when it emerged from that great creative conduit we call me.

Yeah, right.

When we edit it ourselves, the same biased filters are used to decide if it conforms to the original idea and the virtuous circle of deception is complete.

And we end up with crap. Or perhaps it’s just me.

An external editor cannot be expected to decide if the prose we write is moral, ethical or might prove to be potentially embarrassing when your children,  your friends or the Sisters of The Holy Incarnation read it. Not that it matters, unless it does. Anyway, who needs children, friends or nuns?

With a script or screenplay it’s likely that it will be read by hundreds of people before it is actually turned into moving pictures. That means it is almost certain that someone (yes, you know who you are) will read it and comment about tone, pace, coherence, moral compass, relevance and specifically whether or not the words leap off the page, or lie there limply, sighing like a Victorian lady with a touch of the vapours.

My feeling is that not only should a writer read his or her own work aloud but the writer should record the reading and listen to it back. I have had many hilarious hours listening to a disembodied me spouting deathless prose, only to realise that my hilarity will  mean yet another week of hollow-eyed editing in which I will come to despise anew the bright, new thing that I have so recently loved.

But that is the process. That is the dark side of writing. It is essential.

I am half way through reading aloud my new novel and sound recording the reading. So far I have found many errors of meaning, a few of fact and lots of clunky dialogue that looks great on the page but sounds as wooden as the Trojan Horse – which semi-mythical beast it is: great looking on the outside, but full of murderous intent on the inside.

Wish me luck with those hidden traitors, as I wish you luck with yours.


About J.D.Hughes

Fiction writer. Supernatural Horror Mystery AND SOON THE SONG. Supernatural Writer of supernatural thrillers, NORTHMAN, AND SOON THE SONG on Amazon and three short stories: BOMBER, ISSUE 49 and THE 500 on Amazon and Smashwords. New novel to be published mid 2018, but on current performance might be posthumously...
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  1. Lisa says:

    I’ve just taken your advice and read my novel aloud and it sounds like your Trojan Horse!
    I didn’t realise that my dialogue was so bad. I’m panicking because my novel has lots of dialogue. What can I do about it – any suggestions JD?


  2. J.D.Hughes says:

    Lisa, if you find some really bad dialogue you could act the parts out with friends and record it.

    When you playback, listen to how it sounds with your eyes closed. You will pick up every clunky bit, and if you let your friends comment, they will catch the ones you miss. The more people you can get to listen, the bettter will be your understanding of the flow of your dialogue.

    Which reminds me, I have some clunky dialogue of my own to sort out!


  3. Lisa says:

    Just tried it. Recorded myself and a friend and it didn’t sound too bad except we both knew when it wasnt good. it’s time for slicing up the words!!! Thanks 😀

    How do you feel about the debate surrounding the Oxford comma? I’m not sure if I should use it or not and there are lots of opinions out there.


  4. J.D.Hughes says:

    Glad to be of assistance!

    The Oxford or serial comma is, like any punctuation mark, intended to make meaning clear. If you have to use it, use it, if you don’t, don’t. It is probably best to stick to either using it or not, but you are the writer, and yours is the choice.

    As a reader, I will tolerate any mistakes in grammar, construction or even spelling, if the story is a good one.


  5. RWB says:

    The Oxford comma is an abomination. I was always taught that one never put a comma before “and”. I am not a writer, but whenever I see this comma it immediately lowers my estimation of the writer.

    It is interesting how you read back dialogue to yourself. That seems eminently sensible since the written word is not the spoken word. I am not surprised when I watch a particularly wordy TV play or film and it sounds wooden. It is just a sign that the writer has not understood the difference and is, therefore, not totally au fait with the craft of writing for performance.

    I have read your short stories and I find them all to be excellent in terms of content, characterisation, story and economy of words. I will buy your novel when it comes out.
    Thank you.


  6. J.D.Hughes says:

    Thanks for your comment and glad to hear you will be buying my novel, RWB!

    The debate about the Oxford comma will rumble on, no doubt into infinity, so I will try to avoid the debate as much as possible. The English language has evolved in surprising ways over time and I cannot second guess that evolution – notice no comma after ‘time’, but apologies for the em. 🙂

    As you say, it is important to ‘hear’ words, and the only way to do that is to read them aloud or have others read them aloud. Not that this method is foolproof; it is possible to read aloud with the wrong cadence and still get it wrong!



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