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. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-17214012
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.
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.