Today was my writing group’s Christmas Party. We all passed out our Secret Santa stories. Some time back we drew names randomly and wrote a story based on some loose guidelines or preferences specified by that person. James went all out for mine, wrapping it and putting it in this nifty cardboard folder and everything. Very cool.

Remarkably, we actually read our gifted stories aloud. I was a bit surprised, but it’s all good. I last read a story for a group ages ago, and it didn’t go particularly well. It was for a class and I just really lacked the confidence to read well up there. By this point in my life I’m apathetic enough not to give a crap about speaking in public. Which is the advice I give nowadays to people who have a fear of public speaking: just remember, your audience probably doesn’t care as much as you think they do; in the grand scheme of things, whether you do well or badly really doesn’t matter. Doesn’t work so well if you actually are speaking about something important, of course, but most of us will never be in that position. Cynical perhaps, but it’s a philosophy that’s served me well.

Anyway, Sandra read my story, and did quite well (which I’ll have to tell her next time I see her, I forgot to mention it at the party). It’s kind of a long story, and of course she’d never seen it before, which made the feat all the more impressive. She actually made my mage character even more unflappable than I’d imagined, and it worked beautifully.

Readings are important, I think. The actual talent for reading your own stories aloud in an entertaining fashion is handy, of course. What use is a book tour, for example, if you can’t read an excerpt of your novel or short story collection at the book store or on some podcast? It’s part of selling yourself. Many of the creative writing classes I took at college supported readings for just that reason. I went to a number of them, and while the crowds certainly aren’t hostile, I’d hate to crash and burn in the middle of a coffee shop surrounded by my teachers and classmates and the local hacky sack team.

But they’re also useful on another level. They can point out flaws in the story. As I listened to my own story, I noticed a few spots where I’d missed things that should have been trimmed or changed to fit in with edits of other scenes. Dialog that probably could have been better, words that may have been used too often, etc. It may seem ridiculous, but reading your stories aloud to yourself (or to roommates, significant others, pets, whoever) is a good idea. You’ll get a feel for what sounds right or wrong. Sometimes things work okay as written, but when spoken sound odd. Acting is important here, as you’ll want to make sure you get the tone and voice of your story correct, so that it’ll be apparent when the printed words stray from that voice. I used to do that, and even have a tape recorder left over from those years that I could use to listen to the story again if I needed. I may have to start making that a part of my editing routine again. The reading I mean, not so much the recording. Who likes the sound of their own voice?

Next project: I need to get to revising a story I wrote a few months ago involving a ghost town, a bounty hunter, and a warped tree. It’ll need a pretty heavy rewrite. As much as I liked it, I’m not sure if the idea I was trying to get across really came across, so I may need to be more clear about certain things. Totally my fault…the people critiquing it for me liked it, I think, but I’m not sure if they read the same story I did, if that makes sense. On the other hand, the bounty hunter isn’t the type to stand around explaining what’s going on. It’s somewhat Hellboy-ish (or X-Files-ish even) in that sometimes bizarre, horrible things involving the paranormal will happen inexplicably and no satisfactory explanation will ever exist. It’ll be tricky. But there is a market that I think it would be perfect for if I can get it to work.


9 thoughts on “Readings”

  1. At my school, the focus is on reading student work out loud. Every writing class I have, we take at least 25% (usually an hour) of class time to read student work. Sometimes we read edited work…sometimes, unedited. It is fun, though, to hear someone else read your stories I think, and you’re right about it being important to read for editing purposes. Oh, and, I absolutely LOVE the sound of my own voice. So, there.

  2. Sounds like you guys had a blast. Did Hope have to read a story? Just curious. Anyway, was watching Desperate Housewives with the wife last night and came up with a new super hero. Or Heroin I should say. Psycho Skank. 😉
    I was wondering what super powers Psycho Skank would have when she got swept up in a tornado. And I thought, Well she can fly.


  3. Hope wasn’t there. But I can’t imagine she’d have much fun reading in front of people with whom she’s unfamiliar.

    A tornado hit the Desperate Housewives? Man, maybe I should watch that show.

    Speaking of a tornado, we watched Tin Man last night. I may post some thoughts on that later.

  4. You didn’t tell me what you thought of my new heroine. 😉 Anyway, don’t give anything away about Tin Man. We are recording all 3 parts, so we can skip the 34.5 hours worth of commercials to watch the 1.5 hours worth of show. It looks good and I love some of the actors in it. So I can’t wait till everything comes crashing to a halt with the writers strike and I’ll have something to watch.


  5. Sometimes I do actually read my stories aloud — especially when I’m doing the final polish before sending one off to a market. I think it can really be helpful… especially when it comes to smoothing out the prose.

    I had fun reading Sandra’s story out loud. I hope everyone enjoyed that as much as I did. I loved hearing what everyone submitted, too.

    Yours was a real nail biter! Great work! 🙂

  6. So have you watched Tin man yet? I’ve seen part 1, and so far I am very pleasantly surprised. Most Sci-Fi original movies are just horrible. And only a few are good. But this one goes beyond that, so far. Can’t wait to see parts 2 and 3 now.


  7. I was going to give you a few days before I posted about it. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it definitely has weaknesses.

    I skipped Heroes to watch part two (the ending of which is awesome, easily the best part of the mini). I suppose I’ll have to keep an eye out for the Heroes finale, though this season was so lackluster I find I’m hardly caring.

  8. Heroes to me is still clearly the best series on TV still. Though the writing of Pushing Daisies is just great. I think this “chapter” of Heroes was about giving you background on everyone and getting Sylar back. But your right about it being weak. And the finale was no different.
    They tried to make it suspenseful, but it just wasn’t. And I felt the actions of the heroes was at best questionable and borderline just plain stupid.

    I still haven’t watched parts 2 & 3, but go ahead, just give a spoiler alert, and I won’t read it.

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