Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Sometimes a surplus of sibilants sneaks into sentences. Or an annoying alliteration afflicts your prose. The words you type have sounds to them that may not be apparent to you when you compose them. The process of speaking the words aloud gives you the chance to hear unfortunate combinations of sounds that can prove a distraction to your readers.
You are more familiar with your words than your readers are. You know both what you put onto paper, and also what you did not--the stuff you considered putting onto paper, but decided against. This can get into your way in a few ways.
When you read such a sentence aloud, you'll find yourself stumbling over words. This is a clue. Or you'll find yourself out of breath before you're halfway through it. Or you'll botch the phrasing and pause someplace mid-clause. These are also clues. Simplify that sentence.
Likewise, when you're editing your work, your eye may skip past typos. You are more familiar with your work than anyone in the world, and your eye can slide over niggling details. When reading aloud your tongue, which moves much more slowly, will trip over them.
There are text-to-speech programs out there. I've never tried using them to vet my prose, but I think it would be an interesting experiment. If anyone reading this has ever performed an experiment like this, please let me know whether it worked as well as reading it aloud yourself.