Friday, May 2, 2014

FRESH ON FRIDAY: Does That Sound Right?

I HAVE SAID BEFORE, and will say again, that it is a mistake to think of writing as recorded thought. The characters of the Roman alphabet combine to form phonemes, so writing is actually recorded sound.
   That being the case, a good way of editing is to listen to your manuscript, rather than merely reading it.
   In days of yore, the best way to do this was to have someone else read it to you or, lacking a volunteer, to read it yourself into a recorder and then listen to it. But today, you can let the computer do the reading for you.
   Here's how I do that:

  1. Print out a copy of whatever it is that I am editing.
  2. Bring my manuscript up on screen and highlight the part I want to edit.
  3. Enable text-to-speech (there are various ways of doing this on various operating systems, but text-to-speech is an accessibility option on most modern computers).
  4. Tell the computer to start reading.

   I don't read along with it, not for the first read-through. I just listen. I'm making sure the sound of my writing complements the sense of that part of my novel. I'm also keeping an ear open for clinkers: awkward-sounding sentences or phrases.
   I listen all the way through and then listen again, following along on the page this time. When I hear something that needs changing, I'll pause the reading and mark it on my printed copy. And then, once everything is sounding right, I'll trim and tighten and edit for grammar and punctuation.
   The final step is to listen to the edited piece, to make sure I haven't introduced anything that sounds funny, because funny-sounding writing is bad writing.
   If you haven't made a habit of listening to your work, editing this way can be revelatory. And it's a good habit to get into.
   Because I'll say it one more time: writing is recorded sound.


  1. Does text to speech come out as one of those weird robot voices?

    1. Hi, Laura! Good to hear from you. Yes and no to your question; the voice does sound synthesized, but I am on a Mac and use the voice called "Alex," which is the most natural-sounding of the six available on my computer. I also find that, if you speed the voice up just a little past the default, it loses most of that objectionable robotic quality. And another plus is that the computer won't try to "help" the sound with inflection. What you wrote is what you get.