In the title, I'm not referring to the act of reading to yourself. I'm speaking about reading your fiction out loud to an audience.
I spent this past weekend at World Fantasy Convention (WFC) in Toronto. By the way, I had a fantastic time and thought the Toronto organizing committee put on a fabulous show!
At WFC, I attended several readings. Some readers were up-and-coming authors, others long-standing, renowned professionals, and other writers fell somewhere in between with respect to their careers.
After sitting through several good ones, an absolutely brilliant one (Robert Shearman - if you have the opportunity to go to one of his readings, you must attend.), and one during which I fell asleep, I thought I had better share my two cents on the best way to rock a reading.
Five Steps to An Awesome Reading
5. Choose Wisely
Truly sage advice.
Even though you might be working on the most brilliant novel of your career so far, and you would really like your loyal fans to hear a glimpse of the words that will be separating them from their hard-earned money, think before you select what section of this brilliant work you will read to them.
Wise Choice (A) - Impulse Buying
I can't recall who said so, but one important criteria when choosing what to read is to pick something the audience can run out and buy as soon as your reading is over. Because if they loved your reading, then they will be eager to hear the rest of the story and the dealer's room is conveniently located steps away.
Hey, there's a reason they put the candy bars right beside the checkout at the grocery store.
Wise Choice (B) - Snappy Dialogue
Choose a section with some fabulous dialogue. With the caveat that too many accents can be a problem. I stink at accents, so I tend to deliberately NOT choose sections of dialogue that involve my pathetic attempts at foreign accents.
As you read the back and forth between your two amazing characters, the audience will be more involved, as though they're overhearing a conversation full of juicy gossip.
Wise Choice (C) - Less Description, More Action
Don't select the section that involves four pages of description of a tree. Those might be your most lyrical and critical-acclaim-worthy words, but without some forward momentum, your audience might sleep through your brilliance.
Better to choose a scene involving some action. Death, dismemberment, comedy, explosions, whatever makes the audience sit up and say, "Wow." Think about the sorts of moments that are often chosen for movie trailers. These are the moments you should select for your reading.
4. Practice First
Before you ever read that section of your novel/story/poem aloud to an audience of your peers/fans, you should read it aloud to a safe audience. Inflict this first-pass torture on your partner, your kids, your writers' group, your stuffed animals, whatever.
Last weekend, I had one reading of my story, "Death Over Easy," from Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper at the EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing party.
I had never read that particular story to an audience before. So I did a quick practice run with the Stop-Watch Gang at our group's dinner. Not only did I figure out where to stop reading, but I also worked out the voice I would use for Death.
3. Less is More
I have used this phrase before, especially when writing dialogue. Well the less-is-more philosophy also applies to readings.
The last thing you want is for your audience to get bored. Who doesn't loathe the glassy-eyed, I-stopped-listening face?
I prefer to read short excerpts from several stories during a half-hour reading slot.
This snippet approach provides several advantages:
- the audience will get a sense of the breadth and depth of your portfolio
- short breaks between stories prevent glassy-eyed-boredom sickness
- you can entice them with snippets of fiction available for purchase as well as pieces that will be coming soon
The disadvantage to excerpts is that you will disappoint those audience members who wanted a complete story. Then again, they might be more inclined to buy the book/magazine/anthology to see how it all turns out, and that will fill you with the warm-and-fuzzies.
2. Wear Your Actor Hat
The audience members know you're a writer. It says so on the invitation/flyer/pocket program. But the writer-persona part of you that sits silently at a keyboard for hours at a time living in your own head is not all that entertaining.
So sorry, hate to break the bad news.
Let's face it. We've been spoiled by the over-abundance of entertaining actors/action all around us via television, movies, live theatre, even YouTube. When our readers absorb our words, all of that action, all of those voices come to life in a myriad of ways inside their heads.
If your reading isn't half as interesting as the inside of their brains makes you out to be, they might be so disappointed in you that every time they read your fiction, from that point forward, a piece of them will remember that you are not all that interesting.
And that's the kiss of death.
Take an acting class. Study news anchors and actors to figure out what makes them so compelling. Attend other authors' readings. Not only to see what the other authors did right but also to commit to memory and then avoid what they did wrong.
Of course, the practice aspect that I mentioned earlier works hand in hand with wearing the actor hat.
1. Be Yourself
Giant, unrelenting gobs of yourself.
Those audience members have come out to see an author. You have one cool job. You earn money to make stuff up.
You have the dream job. You make people happy. They look up to you.
Dig down, deep, to that piece of you that is so enthusiastic about writing that you are willing to sit with your butt in that chair for hours every day, simply to put words out there.
Be Shakespeare and Dickens and King all wrapped into one amazing package.
The more you give them, the more you rock their socks off, the more they will seek out your fiction. The more likely they will become regular readers.
This is your moment to shine. Do not let them down!
Do it now
Read one of your stories out loud to someone you trust. Watch them to see where the glassy-eyed-I'm-bored look begins.
Tonight spend five minutes watching something (anything) on television. Make a note of what the actor/news anchor/dude in the commercial did to either grab your attention or lose it.