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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

HOW (AND HOW NOT) to DO A SUCCESSFUL READING

I JUST GOT BACK FROM A GREAT CONVENTION last weekend, the Pure Speculation Festival here in Edmonton. One of the events in which I was involved was a group launch where five fellow writers including myself, read from our works. I've been told I read really well. What follows are a few tips that came up in a discussion with friends as to 'how, and how not', to do a successful reading.

1). First and foremost, you need to consider the entertainment value of what you're reading. Consider your audience. I know this seems logical, I shouldn't even have to mention it, but some writers make the mistake of reading sections of their work that they love, without considering how it might affect an audience. Your reading should be one of two things: it should either be a). funny, or b). dramatic.

2). If you write and read funny stuff, enough said. You'll do a great reading, assuming your audience is getting the funny bits you've shared with them and are laughing. (If they aren't, you need to rethink the ha-ha value.)

3). If you read dramatic stuff, make sure it's from a section that is action packed and has lots of dialogue. These sections should also give a good indication as to who your characters are, and what motivates them. What makes for great action, you ask? Fear. Threat. Danger. High stakes. Urgency. Bad stuff happening, or bad stuff about to happen.

4). Speaking of action, what isn't as engaging is coming across the bad stuff that's already occurred. If you share 'the horror of it all', an audience will certainly perk up at that, but it won't grab them as much as the bad stuff that's about to occur, or is occurring.

5). Avoid long descriptive bits.

6). Avoid lengthy 'musing' bits, where a character muses about his life, his past, his love-life, or whatever (unless these bits are funny).

7). Exposition. If the narrative voice is omnipotent and does all the story-telling, it often isn't that engaging.

8). Avoid a string of events that has no emotional pay-off for your audience  - where one thing happens, and then another, and it costs the character little. This might read as a day-in-the-life or a day-in-the-journey episode. If you have a point to make for reading this kind of section, you may get away with it. But you might also reconsider a more action-packed section to read.

9). Stand, don't sit, to do a reading. If you sit, you probably aren't projecting your voice loudly enough. You don't want to lull your audience.

10). Speak clearly and cleanly. If there are any words that are tongue-twisters or turn you marble-mouthed, get rid of them. There is no rule that says you have to read exactly what you've written.  There are many words your eyes will skim over when you are reading silently, but they are difficult to say aloud. You don't want to stumble when speaking, because that breaks your audience's engagement.

11). Keep your readings short. 'Short' depends on the amount of time you've been allotted and your audience's expectation. If you've been given an hour, break up the time with two readings of fifteen to twenty minutes each, with time for conversation and/or Q and A's in between. If you are sharing your time with other writers, again, intersperse the lighter work with the more dramatic. Be considerate. Don't hog the time.

12). Be emotional. Emotion is engaging. But don't develop a weird dramatic voice if you're reading a section that does not warrant it. That just sounds pretentious. Or as if you're trying too hard.

13). And finally, every now and then, look up to gauge how your audience is reacting. If they are looking at you and seem involved, great! If they are looking away, fiddling, or their gaze is drifting about the room, not so great. Which means you probably need to rethink what you're reading, based on points 1 to 8.

Hope these help! Good luck!

- Susan.

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