And the Beat Goes On

Everything has a beat.

From the strict cadence of a marching band, to "There once was a man from Nantucket," to the notes a robin sings, to the laps of waves against the rocks. Everything.

I once had a chow-chow who barked in a series of five: bark-bark-bark . . . bark-bark. Repeat. Bless his heart, I thought he was OCD until I listened to other chow-chows bark. Most of the time, they barked that same way, so I'm guessing it's a breed-specific thing.

Our writing has a beat, too. You know how that beat should sound to you. You hear it in your mind when you put the words on the screen. Sometimes, through the various editing passes we make, that beat gets skewed.

That's why it's important to read it one last time.

It's preferable to read it aloud because what your ears hear and what your mind tells you it hears are often two distinct things. And this can go either way. "Did I write that?" can be said with awesome respect as well as with abject horror.

If you can't or won't read aloud for one reason or another, at least read slowly on this read-through. Don't read for anything except the way things sound--words, sentences, paragraphs. The way the words, sentences, and paragraphs flow.

This is your beat. Your very own personal beat. It's got PROPERTY OF ME stamped on the front.

If something is off as you read, fix it. I suggest fixing it then and there and reread in the same way until you're satisfied. If you're not, your readers won't be either. Then continue.

And the breed-specific thing?

That's our genre.

A mystery shouldn't sound like chick-lit . . . unless it's a chick-lit mystery, of course.



Great point. I'm doing one more round of revisions and am going to take your advice today and read aloud. I want to make sure I don't miss a beat.

Mystery Writing is Murder
I like your comparisons. I am always surprised at what jumps out (usually not in a good way)at me when I read my work out loud - something not obvious before becomes so obvious. I'm now trying to make the 'out loud' bit a regular part of my writing routine.
Carol Kilgore said…
Elizabeth & Jane - I'm always amazed by what I find by reading aloud. Mostly I sort of mumble just loud enough I can hear over whatever else is going on, and that works for me. I know some writers who make the process quite dramatic, but that isn't me.
I always read my work aloud; changes in the rhythm jump out like misplayed notes. Sometimes it's good; sometimes it's bad. Each character has their own rhythm; the trick is for it all to blend into a pleasing melody.

Helen said…
As long as you're doing a read-through, tape yourself. Then play back. Or better yet, get someone who has not read the book to read it and tape. You'll be able to hear which phrases or sentences the reader stumbles through.

Straight From Hel
Sheila Deeth said…
Fascinating comment at the end. Now I'm wondering if I can use the beat to help me figure out the genre.
Carol Kilgore said…
Elspeth - You're so right. It is a trick to make everything blend into a melody.

Helen - Great idea about taping yourself. I wish I knew an actress to ask to read. Might sound better than my reading.

Sheila - Give it a try. Some genres are probably easier than others to identify.
You're right about having a personal voice--and reading aloud sometimes helps me catch when my voice becomes annoying through my "faves", favorite words, favorite punctuation, favorite you-name-it.
Terry Odell said…
As I'm going through my first draft now with a goal of cutting at least 10%, these are all good hints. Even if I HATE the way I sound when reading. I'm a mumbler too, Carol.
Carol Kilgore said…
Conda - I have faves, too. I try to find them all before I read aloud, but I catch them while reading for sure. I imagine some of the sneaky little things still slip through.

Terry - Maybe we should start the Professional Mumblers of America [PMA]. You and I would be charter members.
Anonymous said…
One of the exercises I do quite regularly is to read passages to myself. Everytime I have to pause or I get muddled or I just feel uncomfortable, I mark the spot. When I get to the end of the read through I look at each spot and think about what broke my flow. It always helps me to think about how something is going to read or sound to someone else. Thanks for the excellent advice.
The "read it out loud" advice is so important. My critique group hears me harp on it all the time. I've found so many awkward sentences, and even typos, this way. Nice post (and I love the part about the chows barking in bursts of five).
Carol Kilgore said…
Cassandra - Good idea about marking the spots that stop you. Thanks.

Patricia - Thanks. You must have a chow, or know some.
Michael Bracken said…
My Macintosh will read to me, and sometimes I let it. It has a kind of dull monotone, and it doesn't pronounce every word correctly, but the advantage is that it doesn't know what I meant to write, only what I actually wrote. Missing words jump out and it can't rely on inflections in my voice to convey meaning.
Kerrie said…
I totally agree about our writing having its own beat. Another way to hear the cadence in your work is to have someone else read it aloud to you. In my critique group, we always read each others work aloud for that very reason.
Carol Kilgore said…
Michael - How cool! My PC won't. Sigh. Should be an app for that.

Kerrie - I've been in online groups but never an in-person one. That's a good advantage.