Saturday, February 25, 2006

Writing for the read-aloud

Volunteering on the "library committee" was not something I did thinking it would help me write better manuscripts. That's partly because I had no idea what "library committee" meant, of course, but even as I started putting in long hours, the upside didn't seem like it was going to be writing related.

Then came the read-alouds.

Every writer has heard (from editors and other writers) that you should read your manuscript aloud. But the bigger test, I now realize, is to give the manuscript to someone who doesn't know you, doesn't have you around to answer questions, and is sitting in front of a group of 20 kids.

I now consider myself an expert read-aloud guy, and I've often been forced to do "cold" readings of books I don't know. As I'm reading them (or ones I do know, too), I can feel my gears turning: "What should my intonation be here? Is this building to a punchline or change in story? Is this the right place for a long pause to build anticipation? Is this the place to let the audience rest?" Even though a picture book has page turns and art already in it, it's amazing how many of them leave the read-alouder hanging as a character acts out of character or when an area that NEEDS to be dramatic is instead used for description... or myriad other issues. With the best picture books, I don't have to ask myself anything. I just read.

Getting my own manuscripts to that level is still a work in progress, but they have improved leaps and bounds as I run them through the point of view of, well, of me in my other guise.

No comments: