Read Your Writing Aloud: Lessons from Lovecraft

Lately I have been reading quite a lot of H.P. Lovecraft. One thing that I love so much about his work, alongside his boundless imagination and knack for creating truly horrifying tales, is that his writing is incredible. Even though it seems to fly in the face of most of the ‘rules’ we are now taught, such as using short sentences and simple words, his writing is unique and perfectly conveys the feelings he wished to produce in his readers through his stories.

And, as I have realised, his writing just cries out to be read aloud.

The odour arising from the newly opened depths was intolerable, and at length the quick-eared Hawkins thought he heard a nasty, slopping sound down there. Everyone listened, and everyone was listening still when It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway into the tainted outside air of that poison city of madness.

- The Call of Cthulhu

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Isn’t that just wonderful? The rhythm and pace of the sentences work perfectly and just ache to be read aloud in a deep, dramatic voice, slowing and stressing the fantastic-sounding words like ’slobberingly’, ‘gelatinous’, ‘lumbered’ and ‘immensity’. As I read this passage out loud to myself last night, I realised that reading your own writing aloud could have several benefits. You may want to wait until you are alone to do this, or perhaps read to the dog. He’s not going to judge your poor grammar. Perhaps reading aloud will help you in one of the following ways:

Improve Your Edit

Your general edit, when you work your way back through your First Draft, can be greatly improved by reading your work aloud. Don’t just sit there and stare at your words, allowing them to whizz silently through your head. Read them aloud, loud(!), so that you can hear what your writing sounds like. You will get a much better feel for how your writing comes across to a reader. Clunky sentences and passages will clash against your ear, sticking out like sore thumbs. Badly chosen words, similarly, will stand out. Also, how your writing flows will become much more apparent. Do you find yourself pausing for breath in all the wrong places? If so, check your grammar and sentence structure. Do you find yourself tripping over the words? Then perhaps find better words to use instead. All of these edits you most likely do already, but reading aloud will help you to spot where your writing needs work, and what works needs doing.

Write Like You Talk

One piece of writing advice that I often hear, and generally agree with, is that you should write like you talk. Of course, if you are writing a very stylised piece, then this won’t be possible, but as a general rule – writing like you talk is a very good one. It will make your writing natural and readable, and will help to convey whatever it is you are trying to get across to your reader – which of course is the goal of any writing and the mark of the best prose. By reading your work aloud, just like when looking for specific edits, you be able to better understand your own writing, and whether it sounds like you talk. Do you feel comfortable reading it aloud? Does it sound like you? If so; good!

Develop Your Style

Some of the best writing, such as Lovecraft’s, has a distintive style that you can define. But when working to discover and develop a specific style, it can be hard to remain consistent and so you may be left with writing that can sound unnatural. Worst of all, you could come across as a writer trying far too hard. However, by reading aloud, you will be able to hear how your style is developing, and where it needs tightening. Also, perhaps you can take this technique further and aim for an over-the-top style that wants to be read aloud. Your readers may not actually read your writing aloud, but if it makes them want to do so then you can be sure that your writing has moved them and you have grabbed their attention with your words.

Have Fun With Adverbs(!)

Now… I know the passage above from The Call of Cthulhu (and all of Lovecraft’s writing in fact) is full of the most ridiculous adverbs. And we all know to avoid them like the plague, right? But here they work, partly because these exact words are carefully chosen for the wonderful way that they sound, and that they are a major part of Lovecraft’s particular style. That doesn’t mean you should go and fill your writing with adverbs, and I would still urge caution on their use (as they can often be a mark of lazy and sloppy writing), but they can indeed work well if used properly. If they are part of your style, or of the style of the piece, by all means use them. Then read your work out aloud. When you do that you will know instantly whether your adverbs sound stupid or whether they are worthy of Lovecraft himself.

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Reading aloud, for all these reasons above, can really help your writing to develop. And perhaps by writing with the thought in mind that someone may someday be reading your words aloud, it can help to develop your style into one exciting and powerful, full of words that sound as wonderful to the ear as they do the mind.

Finally, everyone read aloud with me: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’yleh wgah’nagl fhtagn!”

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Do you ever read your own work aloud? Whose writing do you think worthy of opening your mouth and speaking forth? Please share your thoughts and feedback in the comments below!

Images courtesy of CaptainSpunky and Kate Andrews.

Christopher Jackson is the Editor for Fuel Your Writing and a creative copywriter. He is currently working on Project: Snotbook, an interactive children’s storybook for iPad.

 

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