Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Find your Inner Bard: 5 Tips for Better Readings

Yay Dragon*Con Broad Universe Rapid Fire Readers!

So, I've been on the Motherboard of Broad Universe, officially handling RFRs for a few months. Of course, I've run a more than a few since then. And, before that, I've read at some RFRs, and even a few bouts of poetry for Jacob Edwards Library with my Southbridge Writing Group.

I liked to think I was pretty good at reading.

I purposely avoided listening to recorded versions, though. It would absolutely pop my "I'm pretty good at this" bubble. It was like how I KNOW I could totally kick ass at American Idol while I'm driving and hammering out whatever Crüxshadows or Ego Likeness… or even Nightwish… song is on my iPod.

Just don't record me! Self-delusional, huh?

I'm not the only one.

Most current writers hate hearing themselves read. An awful lot hate and fear reading out loud.

The problem is, the world of selling one's books is changing.

Inanna Arthen described it in her great panel at Readercon this year. This idea that writers are holed up, just writing, is a new construction. For millennia before, storytellers… told their stories. Or sung. They performed.

And now, with so much competition out there and so much marketing falling to the writer's responsibility, an author are returning to performance to drive sales.

Personal example: Every place I've read my poetry: I've sold out of chap books. Completely.

Of course, this is now a few years - and many lessons - of regularly reading out loud. And listening to my friends & colleagues read out loud - and also get better.

How about I share some of these hard-earned "secrets"? Here's my top 5 ways to ma

Credit where credit is due, first. Inanna was a big help in coaching me with her panels and in our overnight sessions at her house. Also, Mary Robinette Kowal has taught me so much from her panels and from her website resources. Definitely check out both of their web pages for more information.

5. Get friends & colleagues involved.

If you are lucky enough to have a live writing group near you, suggest that you spend a meeting every so often reading out loud. In my case, my live writing group reads almost everything out loud. Because we want feedback, we have an indirect pressure to perform well so our colleagues can understand and critique us. If you don't have a live writer's group, make Skype dates with online writing friends. Skype is free, and reading aloud will help both of you sell, so what's the

4. Pick strong passages

You want a passage that has a beginning middle and end. You don't want to spend more than a sentence or two acquainting your reader with the scene, and while you want a bit of a cliffhanger so the reader buys your book for the end, you want some sort of end to it. Your listeners want a story. If you can find a passage that's a natural scene in your book, you probably have what it needs. You may also want to pick a scene with a combination of narration and dialogue - and be careful not to have too many characters in dialogue. You'll need to differentiate your speakers - including the narrator, and most people have a hard time differentiating more than 4 speakers.

3. Record it.

Yes, yes, I admitted I hated the sound of my recorded voice. I still do, actually, but it's become much less painful. Record your readings and analyze them. Where you are stressing, and where you are stumbling (and may not realize it)? Where do you naturally speed up? Where do you naturally slow down?

Just being aware of what you naturally do helps you read better; you'll subconsciously fix yourself. Taking conscious steps to fix common mistakes makes your performance even stronger.

As an added benefit, move your recording device (or yourself if you are using a computer) to different distances to practice projecting. If you have to read to a full room of people (which is a good thing - really!), you want everyone in the back of the room to hear as well as those in the front.

2. Numbers game with Words.

With Rapid Fire Readings, all the readers have a strict timeline to follow. Even if you are reading alone or have more than 4.5 minutes, you don't want to go over your allotted time (it aggravates the people who scheduled you) and you don't want to be under time (who wants an awkward silence?). Inanna told me this ONE THING that has made calculating my readings a million times easier: You should read at a pace of between 100-120 words a minute.

Why is that so cool? It means that no matter what time frame I have to read, I can whip out my calculator and select a reading within that word count! 20 minutes? 2000-2400 words. 4.5 minutes? 450-540 words. If it's dialogue, I know it will go faster, so I can go towards the higher number. If it's a lot of narrative, I aim lower. If it's poetry, I also aim for the lower end because I know my poetry depends on dramatic pauses.

1. Practice and Perform.

Knowing you should practice reading out loud should go without saying, but I still like reminders, myself.

The harder part is to break beyond practicing: Go out and read!

If you're a member of Broad Universe, a great way to wet your feet is to be part of one of our Rapid Fire Readings at a convention you're attending. If you are on your own, talk to libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops to see if they have open mic events or if they'd be interested in hosting a reading. This is another chance to bring together your writing friends, too. A group of readers will have more draw than just one or two: organize a local author event with readings!

Maybe you're one of the few who won't want to puke or be caught with the shakes for your first few readings… or you might be like me and get stomach jitters and need an inhaler years into reading in front of people. Either way, read. Read as best you can. And do it again. And again.
Soon, you may find you need to pack more books to your events.


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