What magical force draws kids from all four corners of the house, almost as reliably as the crinkly sound of a candy bar wrapper? What same magical force can an also infuse a jaded writer with new creative energy? I'm convinced there is something wonderfully powerful about reading out loud.
This post is mostly about reading to kids, but I believe there is also an important component to reading out loud that matters to writers, too, so skip down to the "for writers" section if you're interested in that.
Every time I start reading a book out loud to one of my kids, within seconds the other three (age range 3-9 years) gather round with whimsical smiles and dreamy looks on their faces. When my 15 year old stepdaughter is around, she won't act like she's listening, but I can tell she is. There is something magically drawing about hearing a story told out loud.
One of my favorite bloggers and MG/YA author Susan Kaye Quinn has written a great post called Twelve Tips for Reluctant Readers and reading out loud to kids is one of those tips.
In a recent interview at the Writer's Alley she says "kids will do just about anything to get you to spend time with them, including tolerating that paper book thing you insist on reading. Eventually, they’ll get caught up in the story – they can’t help it. Stories are like air for kids; they need them to exist and grow."
Jemi Fraser has another great blog post about how she reads out loud to kids in the grade-school classes she teaches. She specifically says she reads to them for pleasure, and not for some ulterior educational reason (though I think one of the best and lasting ways kids learn is through stories). She says "I've had students come and talk to me years later about their favourite books."
Strangely enough, I don't ever remember my mother or teachers reading out loud to me. But my mother did tape herself narrating a story about her childhood on a farm (I was a city kid, so her farm stories fascinated me), and I must have listened to that tape a hundred times, or more. I'm sure I had it memorized - I can still remember large parts of it.
At another one of the blogs I read, like, religiously - Lisa Gail Green's Paranormal Point of View, she had a series of vlogs about developing voice in your writing. And one of her suggestions was to pick up a favorite book and read a scene out loud in character. "Getting into character" - can give you a feel for voice. Is there a particular character that you really enjoy reading out loud, or a particular part of scene that is really easy to "act out"? Those are the parts where the "voice" is coming out nice and strong. Then, Lisa points out the next logical step is to take your character worksheet, write yourself a scene with that character, and then read it out loud. Sometimes the way you end up reading it will not exactly reflect the character you first envisioned - but that's all right - "the character is trying to tell you something and you need to listen to them."
Okay I tried this and at first I felt kind of silly. In fact I purposefully did it after the kids were in bed (and the husband) so I didn't inadvertently collect a crowd. But I have to say, once you start relaxing, this "getting into character thing" really works, and it gave me some fresh ideas to develop my character's voice.
I tell you, reading out loud really is magic.
Recently I've had a blast reading The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan, and How to Train Your Dragon, translated by Cressida Cowell, to my kids. The kids especially love it when I get into character for them. My favorite characters to read from these books were Ares, god of war and Harley bike dude, and the Green Death, an awesome Smaug-like evil dragon.
Do you have any favorite read-out characters or books?
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