Posts Tagged Reading Aloud

Live Fiction

Have you ever tried reading aloud to an audience?

Picture by A.A. Abbott

Recently I took part in my first fiction evening. It was organised by thriller writer A. A. Abbott (aka Helen) and held at the Gunmakers’ Arms in Birmingham (worth a visit – it’s a lovely traditional pub). When Helen invited me to take part I was a bit dubious, talking to an audience is one thing but trying to hold their attention for several minutes while reading aloud is another. It’s far easier to build audience rapport when you can make constant eye contact, talk with your hands to make a point and ask rhetorical questions to get the audience thinking. Reading aloud means the audience has to concentrate all the time, if they tune out they lose the thread of the story – it’s essential to keep the audience with you. But I decided to give it a go – the worst that could happen would be seven minutes of boredom for the audience.

On the night Helen was a great compere, introducing us all with enthusiasm, live tweeting photos and making sure it all went smoothly. I chose one of my shorter stories (worried about holding audience interest!) that had been published in The Weekly News and also appears in A Coffee Break Story Collection. I practised it several times at home, getting the hang of looking up at the audience without losing my place. I think it went OK – nobody shuffled, people had their eyes on me when I glanced at the audience and there was clapping at the end. The other seven performers were terrific with great stories and some haiku too.

Would I do it again (if invited!) ? I think so but I’d choose a different kind of story. For me the stories that worked best on the night were those with a very strong central character going through an unusual event/experience and very few minor characters. It’s essential that the audience is immediately interested in the main protagonist and not distracted by other characters. Possibly that’s how all short stories should be written anyway.

If you’re going to be reading aloud in the near future take a look at these Tips for Reading Aloud which Julia Thorley kindly gave earlier this year.

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Tips for Reading Aloud

Julia Thorley has published a collection of monologues and first-person stories, Nine Lives. Nine Lives by Julia ThorleyThe tales are meant to be read aloud. Julia recently launched the book with some readings and has very generously agreed to share her experience and some great tips on reading aloud to groups:

In my other life as a yoga teacher I am used to speaking to groups of people, but this didn’t stop me being incredibly nervous. An audience is a different proposition from a class of students.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to read my story ‘Scoring an Own Goal in Tennis’ at the awards evening of the H E Bates short story competition. At the time, I sought the advice of my friend Kezzabelle, who is a performance poet. She gave me some excellent tips, which I applied not just on that occasion, but also at the launch events I held for Nine Lives:

  • Wear the right glasses! Print out your text extra-large, if you think you might struggle to read from the original.
  • Punctuation for reading aloud isn’t necessarily the same as that for reading in your head. Be prepared to tweak, and practise before you perform. Dialogue can be particularly problematic. On paper, the implied ‘he said, she said’ of a conversation is obvious, but unless you plan to use different voices it can be hard to follow out loud.
  • Highlight in colour words that need particular vocal emphasis or provide the chance for a gesture.
  • Turn your pages at the end of a sentence, so you don’t break your rhythm.
  • If you’re reading before and after an interval, pop to the loo just before the end of the first half. That way you’ll be able to avoid the queue and, more importantly, be available to chat to people and, all being well, sell a few books.

Tips for Reading AloudWhile I had a voice in mind as I wrote each story, I said in the introduction to Nine Lives : ‘. . . if you hear a different voice, that’s fine with me.’ I’ve asked other people to read some of the stories for me – I have written some from the male POV, for instance – and it’s very odd hearing another person’s interpretation. I wasn’t prepared for that!

I’m never going to be able to recite my tales from memory, but my confidence is increasing each time I read in public. I’m no Victoria Wood, but I’ve managed to raise a laugh in the right places and make people cry at the sad bits, which is pleasing.

Why not give it a go? If you read aloud anything from your copy of Nine Lives, I’d love to hear how you get on.

Nine Lives: monologues and first-person stories for reading aloud is available as an e-book from Amazon for 99p. Paperbacks are available via www.juliathorley.com for £5 + p&p. Or contact her through her Facebook page: @JuliaThorleyAuthor or her blog: Life, yoga and other adventures.

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