How to Read Aloud an Excerpt from Your Novel
When it comes to reading aloud, many authors believe their writing will speak for itself. Actually, at live reading events, your readers will base their decision to buy your book based off of how you read aloud, not how well you write. And if you just follow these few simple steps, you’ll get a lot more people interested in your novel.
I recently saw a host of writers read aloud excerpts from their novels. It actually frightened me how little attention I paid to the actual writing and how I determined a good story by how well they read theirs aloud.
A Bad Reading
Here’s an audio example of how NOT to read aloud from your novel.
A Good Reading
Although I’m not a professional actor or reader, I’ve had the honor of working with professional voice over readers like Derri Pollack. From watching her work, I’ve noticed several of her reading skills and tried to incorporate them. So here’s an audio example of me reading an excerpt from my novel The Torah Codes.
I read aloud to my wife every night before we fall asleep. She says I’m a good reader. In fact, she has me read to her every single night, so I can relate to what Taylor Mali, that master of readers, says in “Reading Allowed.”
Here are five tips to improve your reading skills when asked to read aloud.
1. Read Slowly
If you read too quickly, few will comprehend what’s going on. When reading dialogue, speak with a relaxed tone. Say the words the way the character would really say them. Don’t rush.
2. Don’t Read Slowly
I said to read slowly, but that’s not actually right. The goal is to perform the scene. Don’t read slowly, read with a variety of tempos. If your character is in a middle of a chase, read quickly and be out of breath. If she’s contemplating what to do as she sits on the bus, read slowly and pause between each sentence as if to weigh the possibilities.
3. Read With a Variety of Voices
Each person has a different pitch, speed, volume, and accent when speaking. Make it easier for the listener to distinguish who’s who by giving each character a different voice.
Beyond differentiating the characters, though, the different voices will give the listeners a clue as to who those characters are. Have one lady speak with a high, soft, slow, precise British accent to convey her upper class upbringing. Have the man speak with a low, slow, growling southern accent to emphasize his cowboy background.
4. Act Out
In order to win over your listeners, they need to feel emotions during your reading. And listeners often respond best to hearing emotions. Is the character angry? Read through gritted teeth. Is the character laughing? Laugh as you say his line. When you feel what the characters feel, the listeners will often sympathize and feel those feelings themselves.
5. Connect With Your Listeners
Your listeners want you to talk to them, not to the book. So avoid keeping your head in the pages. Hold your book high so you have your chin up. Try to make as much eye contact with your audience as possible.
If you are unable to memorize the whole excerpt, memorize the dialogue. The dialogue is an especially important time to keep your head out of the book because the listeners don’t want to picture the character as someone who’s reading what they feel.
How to Choose What Part to Read Aloud
Say you’re expected to give a 5 minute reading from your novel. How do you know what’s a good excerpt to read aloud? Your excerpt should have these three qualities:
2. Typical of your story
3. Can stand alone
Consider all the scenes which carry the most emotion. Getting your listeners to have an emotional experience is key to getting them to want to spend more time with your characters and, ultimately, buy your book.
So list the emotional scenes in your book. But not just scenes that will make the reader cry, scenes that will make them laugh, scare, feel sick, or fall in love. Any emotion will do, as long as that emotion accurately represents what most of your book is about.
Which brings me to the second quality.
Typical of Your Story
Your excerpt needs to convey what the overall novel’s emotions are. So cross out any scenes from your list that convey emotions atypical to your novel.
It makes no sense if the excerpt from your thriller is that one romantic moment between the two main characters. Your reading is a promise of an experience. If I read that romance scene, I’ve promised the listeners they’ll get more romance when they read my book.
I’ll get a lot of angry readers.
So make sure your excerpt creates that emotional experience your readers can expect to have overall.
Can Stand Alone
Does the emotion of your scene rely on understanding who the characters are? What’s happened in the plot? The background of the character’s relationships with each other?
That’s no good.
If the previous background necessary to understand the scene can be summed up in one or two sentences, that’s fine. You can recite those sentences as a brief intro to your excerpt.
Cross out any of the scenes that require substantial background and backstory explanation.
Hopefully, you still have a few scenes left. If not, choose the scene that has the least amount of background introduction needed to make the audience enjoy it.
With the remaining scenes, find the shortest, most powerful excerpt. The shorter the better because you can use the extra time to fill with fitting pauses. Practice reading that excerpt with a timer to see how long it takes to read it.
Consider recording yourself reading aloud at home to hear what works and what doesn’t work. With enough practice, you’ll stand out among the crowd!
Book marketing mentor, Ezra Barany is the author of the award-winning bestseller, The Torah Codes. Contact Ezra today to begin the conversation on how he can help you now via Facebook, Twitter, or contact him through this blog, or email: EZRA at THETORAHCODES dot COM.