Reading Aloud

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Gary Wassner, Sep 7, 2004.

  1. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    Okay, so this is a bit of a selfish thread, but it may be interesting anyway. When you go to a reading by an author, what types of chapters do you prefer to hear: Descriptive chapters, action scenes such as battle scenes or chapters where magic is manifested, highly thoughtful situations that are introspective and filled with contemplative issues, or chapters with many characters and lots of dialogue?

    If I left out any other preferences, please state them. It's often very hard to decide what to read aloud to people who are unfamiliar with your books and your world. What do you think would leave the most lasting impression?
     
  2. Spears&Buckler

    Spears&Buckler MJ Dusseault

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    I've actually never been to an author's read before. I don't mean to change the subject, but how do you find out about things like that going on?
     
  3. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    I guess it depends upon where you live. If you live in NYC then New York Magazine, The Village Voice and Time Out NY all list the scheduled readings. At all the conventions authors read as well, so if there is a con in your town you can most probably go and listen. Barnes and Noble and Borders also conduct readings periodically. You can check you local bookstores as well.
     
  4. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    Those are all givens, Steve!!! What I want to know is what people really and truly enjoy hearing. I am usually bored stiff when I go to a reading. I don't want to bore my audience, but different strokes for different folks. What I might find interesting, another may fall asleep to.
     
  5. JRMurdock

    JRMurdock Where have I been?

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    What I DON'T like:

    1) Being read to.
    2) monotone
    3) Being read to.
    4) a boring reader.
    5) Being read to.
    6) Imobile readers
    7) Being read to.

    What I DO like:
    1) A mix of description and Action.
    2) An author enthusatic about his/her work and getting the audience worked up as well.
    3) A reader who spends more time talking with the audience rather than reading (practice practice practice and memorize your piece so you don't really need to read, but can use the book as a prop).
    4) A reader who doesn't look like he/she is actually reading, but talking directory the audience.
    5) Inflection
    6) Appropriate pause.
    7) Meter (pacing)
    8) Movement by the reader. Flailing arms. Mock action. Shouting. Jumping. Get into the story man!
    9) I want to FEEL the story, not just be read to.

    Does that help at all?
     
  6. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    Yes, it all helps. I have to wade through 2400 pages of text and pick out a 20 minute section, so everything helps.
    I tend to get too serious when most people at the readings simply want to be entertained. Too much dialogue in the chapter makes for a tedious read - "he said," "she replied", "he exclaimed" etc. But on the other hand, I want to read or hear, when I go to a reading, something that is indicative of the author. If the chapter's too heavy, then it gets boring, and if it's all action, then the person listening will get the wrong impression of my books. I have been doing sample readings this year to various small groups in NYC and testing out different chapters. I know what I would prefer to read, but I won't do that - I'd probably put the audience to sleep - too philosophical and too hard to listen to.
    But, Maus, I only read. I am not a very good actor, and I am not terribly animated when I read. I have a good speaking voice, as I teach yoga and my voice is soothing and easy to listen to. But I hope the words themselves generate the ambiance and create the images because I kind of hold the pages pretty tighlty with my hands and don't often use them as I speak.
    You can't please everyone. Some people are very moved by sad chapters and serious chapters, and some people want fighting and magic. It's often hard to pick out a chapter that will make sense so out of context, that combines what everyone wants. But, it's really good to know what people hate! And it helps to know what they prefer.
     
  7. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    I just came back from Worldcon and went to a bunch of author readings. You can also find them at local cons.

    I usually only go to the readings of authors I know and am already reading. I should use it to find new authors - but I have no patience at being read to about something I know nothing about.

    I don't mind if the work is in progress or already out. Though I know it is easier to sell something that exists.

    What I don't like is when they read small snippets from various parts of the work. I want them to start at the beginning and continue until the reading is done, not jump from pillar to post. You aren't really trying to highlight your writing skills for the audience so much as you are trying to tell a story and build a connection. If you do it well enough they will buy the book when you are done because they care about what happens next. No amount of technical razzle dazzle will make them buy the book if they didn't like/care/find interesting the story/characters.

    I don't care much for a lot of names in the material being read. Usually they are fancy and funky and I need to see them in writitng to understand them.

    I also don't like being yelled at. I went to a reading once and the author was also a theater actor. It was a small intimate setting: a couple of rows of seats in the bookstore, and he was projecting as if he was on the stage. I was in the front row and stopped listening and couldn't wait for him to shut up.

    Also mumbling is not good. You can also tell when they are afraid because you can hear their chest cavity tightening up with every breath they take. It distracts from what you are hearing in terms of the story, because you are waiting to see if the author is going to keel over.

    Reading something funny is always good and helps keep the author's name in your mind.
     
  8. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    Ficus, I agree with just about everything you said. The only exception is that if the author attempts to be funny and fails at it, then the effect in a small room can be really bad.

    It's hard to tell a story in one chapter whatever the subject matter. Epic fantasy, due to its customary length, poses an even greater challenge in that regard. Picking the right chapter to read is so important, and I totally agree that skipping around from chapter to chapter is not a good idea. Lots of difficult names is definitely something to avoid when reading aloud.
     
  9. Jamza1986

    Jamza1986 Under construction

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    lol do authors have to read it out loud? I'd dread that :eek:
     
  10. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    As someone who has had to sit through a number of readings whether I wanted to or not, here's what I would suggest:

    Do two excerpts of ten-fifteen minutes long, no longer. While Ficus makes an excellent point about snippets, a long twenty minute read is going to put most listeners to sleep even if they like the work.

    Set up each excerpt with a brief but clear explanation of where it fits in the story, who the people are, even if you're reading from the very beginning of the work.

    Pick at least one excerpt with some strong visual action and dialogue exchange that is dramatic. Pick at least one section for one of the excerpts that involves exposition from a main character's point of view, that character's thoughts, perhaps as he or she makes a realization or self-discovery. Think King Arthur's monologue when he's found out about Guenivere and Lancelot's romance in the musical "Camelot." (If you don't know it, rent the film with Richard Harris doing it as King Arthur.) At least part of one excerpt should have something humorous to it. You want to let listeners know that your writing is fun and exciting (the action and dialogue, humor) and also has depth (the character development.) Imagery description is a plus but shouldn't be the be-all, end-all.

    You don't have to be a theater actor, but you do have to be a radio actor. You have to use your voice. Jim Dale does the audio version of the Harry Potter books and he's wonderful -- and I say that as someone who cannot get into audio versions. He has a sonorous voice, like you say you have. If you can listen to him, see how he does the different voices and the pauses and such, it should be moderately easy to imitate as a style. Imagine the audience to be young children and you'll find that you lapse into a more exaggerated, rhythmic storyteller style automatically.

    In between the excerpts, talk briefly about how you came to write the story, what's important about it to you, why you think it's of interest to them, more explanatory details about character and plot. Leave enough time in the presentation at the end for people to ask questions.

    Make sure there are really good snacks and enough to drink. Have a promotional item with the book's title like bookmarks, pins or pens available for peope to take even if they don't buy the book.

    Chat up and be really nice to the bookstore folk or whoever is running the reading and try to make sure that the person who introduces you has actually read the book.
     
  11. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    Never done a reading, but have given lectures/talks.

    From experience; Always make sure you are comfortable, both in clothing, and the position you are standing or sitting in. Sounds stupid, but if you don't feel relaxed and sure of yourself it shows. You lose the attention of your audience if you are not able to give them all yours and that is what you are trying to do in a way, hold them, make them listen. If they see you are relaxed in their company (well look it) it gets you off to a good start.

    Find something to do with your hands, if reading hold a book. Hands are horrible things if left to their own devices when talking.

    Practice what you are going to say/read/talk about. In front of a mirror. Yes that sounds very vain, but you notice things you do while you are talking, things you don't even know you are doing. especially the hands *grin*

    Keep your eyes on the whole of your audience, That is try and fix your gaze over them or on a fixed spot. I don't mean glare, Don't single out a single person, especially if it is in a small room, you make them feel uncomfortable and others notice it. On the other hand if you notice a friend at the beginning a smile and a nod makes you and your audience feel closer, for want of a better word. It makes you real to them.

    Never look at your feet or hands or on the fool in the first row picking their nose. It gives the impression you are not interested in doing this and people will lose interest in you. The nose picker or like can make you freeze and lose your pace.

    Highs and lows, build your talk taking your listeners up, then down, then up again. With a section of work I would chose something that leaves the audience asking "what is next?"

    Make sure you know that section backwards and forwards, if you are answering questions after make sure you have a good set of answers. Draw them up if you can, cover as many bases as you can. With it being your book it should be easier. Nothing worse than some one going... eeerrrrr yes.... good question. It screams they haven't got a clue.
     
  12. Sammie

    Sammie The Doctor...

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    This is a really interesting thread - there's loads of good advice here, for all sorts of public speaking.

    My only contrinution would be - make sure you have a glass of water (plus jug) on hand! Mouth's have a tendancy to go dry at the worst possible moments. Also, taking a sip of water is a great way of buying yourself a moment to collect your thoughts if you get stage-fright or are asked that really HORRIBLE question. (But don't reach for the water without looking, when you are already jittery with nerves, and send it flying! - Haven't done this during my own presentation, but did it during a friend's, while waiting for my turn! :eek: )

    True. And yet confidently saying "That is a very good question", or even better a very interesting question, as if you are commending the questioner and are quite certain of the answer yourself, is another useful time-buying skill. :)

    Specific to the reading - my feeling would be that it's advisable to start with action/drama (to get our attention) and finish with the same (so's to provide that cliffhanger/keep us wanting more). Then sandwich the sad/serious/emotional piece in the middle. Either way, remember people will remember everything they REALLY like (or don't, but hopefully that wont be an issue!), but besides that, they will mainly remember the begining and the end....
     
  13. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    The last two readings I did I chose totally different types of chapters. One was sad but was very descriptive. It also had a good action segment in the middle of it. The other was less vibrant and much more contemplative. Some people in the audience thought it was brilliant, and they loved the imagery. From my perspective, I felt that it was too long and too serious as I was reading it!! I don't know why I didn't realize that before hand. I decided on that chapter about an hour before the reading, and I discarded all of my other choices at the last minute.
    I try to keep my readings to 20 minutes. More than that, I agree, people wander no matter how interesting the book. But I have never read more than one chapter during a reading. It's hard to find a chapter that is cohesive and that short that it would take only ten minutes to read! That's like 7 or eight pages! I don't have any chapters that are only 7 or 8 pages.

    I am also beginning the reading at World Fantasy this year with a poem. It's short enough so that it will not alienate the audience, but it is important to me. My books have more and more poetry in them as the series progresses. It sets a mood in this case, and leads into the chapter I am planning on reading very well.
     
  14. funky_fantasist

    funky_fantasist Registered User

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    I LOVE to read aloud!

    But I think I am the exception rather than the rule amongst the other writers I know. I did an appearance with Raymond Fiest & he doesn't read aloud - just takes questions and answers from the audience - so I was asked to read first! Was I nervous in front of 50 or so Fiest fans? Just a tad! (Checkout the full garlicky story on my website if you fancy a chuckle: www.millerlau.com)

    I do rehearse my readings. I can't imagine why some others do not... Maus, I completely agree with you about the monotone thing - ruins the reading.

    To be honest I have found that people are beginning to fidget round about the 10 minute mark (and that's not just my reading, honest! I've observed the same at cons even with the big names). I would probably never read for more than 20 minutes at a push.

    Surprisingly, many writers do not rehearse or even think about the reading until about 10 mins beforehand. And (sorry - pet peeve coming up!) many of my male counterparts don't seem to think they even need to look tidy! :eek:
    Personally, I think that's unprofessional. No, we are not on a fashion parade but I would be less inclined to buy a book by someone I could not take seriously... I guess I'm saying it all goes towards your credibility...
    (I hope I'm not offending anyone here - it IS only my take on it.)

    A tip I was given by my fave mega-star! :cool: Was that, in order to stop your throat from tightening and making your voice squeaky and nervous sounding, is to suck a boiled sweet - or eat anything in fact - this sends a chemical message to your brain which stops it from producing the 'fear/flight' endorphines. Your brain 'thinks' (subconciously) that if you are eating - you are NOT in fact under threat...

    Hmm, I'm thinking: A101 Presentation Skills For Authors. Now that would be worth doing...

    Anyway - sorry for waffling on :eek: distracting myself from editing...

    Hugs
    Funky
    :D
     
  15. Leiali

    Leiali Registered User

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    I have been to a fair few readings, and the ones that stick out in my mind are the ones where the speaker has been funny, telling anecdotes relevant to their work. The weird thing is, though I prefer the authors Phillip Pullman and Robin Hobb to Jasper Fforde and David Gemmell, Fforde and Gemmell were by far and away better at readings because they were comfortable telling a story out load. They were engaging, interesting, relaxed and fun. Hobb and Pullman were both very dry, and though interesting, a little dull at times as they were not natural speakers. Hobb especially seemed terrified - fair enough I know, but she was amongst people who had clearly bought all of her considerable number of books. So anyway, relax and have fun!
     
  16. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    Readings I have been to in bookstores which have sometimes up to 2 hours are more freeform. In that time you can: read, do a little talk, answer questions and sign books. It is a good thing to have a mix of options because you may get a less committed audience, those who stop on the spur of the moment.

    Readings at literary cons are a different matter. Your audience is much more interested in hearing you read, and may actually be interested in your work personally. :) Readings are scheduled for either half an hour or one hour, and you are expected to read for all but about 10 minutes. In the time leftover you can talk or answer questions, but that is peripheral to why you are there. Sometimes the reading will go the full length of time. Author and audience have been known to move en-mass to other accomodations to continue (if the author wanted an hour and was only given a half hour, or if the author is looking for a good place to stop).

    The bigger names: Gaiman, Bujold, Martin are scheduled for the hour readings, and people never lose interest. Those authors are also given the biggest rooms, and they still are SRO - and you will have people hanging into the hall (standing), where they can't even see the author and can barely hear for the entire hour. So if you think the audience is going to 'lose interest' then you probably shouldn't be reading in the first place.

    I agree with the advice about practicing. One of the readings I went to was by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. It was very good, but he was extremely nervous and skipped around a lot. He noted that in the UK he was only used to reading for 10 minutes and was really not comfortable with the half hour he was expected to read. He is just now being published in the US, so he didn't have people in the audience who knew enough about him, or his books to ask questions. So if you are trying to break-in (as a new author, or in a new market) don't expect to be rescued by questions from the audience, especially at a con - they have heard all the blather about how or why you write and are there to listen to your work. If you do a good solid reading there may be questions afterward about what you read, but there has to be enough of a whole in the audience's mind to come up with them.
     
  17. intensityxx

    intensityxx Prefers to be anomalous

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    Ye gods! :D :eek: I'm still laughing at that one, imagining sentient, disembodied hands doing annoying things.

    I'd like to add that there are people like me who are such visual readers that they cannot process being read to. We are likely to attend a reading event in order to get to know the author, rather than hear the work - so we will be listening to your voice, observing you, getting a sense of who you are. I want to reassure you that it isn't boredom that keeps us from getting caught up in the reading itself.
     
  18. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Wow, yes, how could I have forgotten the water thing! The last talk I gave was in a room so incredibly warm, I had to strip off my blazer and they had to bring me a whole pitcher of water so I could keep my throat from drying up. If you see stand-up comedians working under hot lights, they always have one bottle of water per half-hour of talking. My husband also advises not drinking soda or coffee before the talk.

    I cannot imagine sitting and listening to even my favorite author read for an hour. Of course, I'm the one who is not into listening to audio books in the car. I suppose if the author danced about, did funny voices and wore some costume hats, I'd enjoy it, but that seems rather a lot to demand from people who are not always natural performers. (Mr. Gaiman, I would suspect, is a natural performer.) I like to hear bits from the book, not whole chapters unless they are whole scenes. I also like to hear annecdotes, info about how the author works, came up with the characters or the world of the story, and listen to the author do give and take with the audience with questions, which is a lot easier for most authors to handle, more relaxed, and often very interesting unless you get some blowhard asking a question, which at a convention would hopefully be squashed by the moderator. For the words of the book, I can buy the book. I'm seeing the author to see the author.

    That's at a convention or conference. At a reading, I would expect more reading to go on, but also the author connecting with the audience. Even if you read for two hours straight, you are not going to be able to communicate the whole book, which is why talking about the novel, its plot and its main characters, is also a way to get people interested in and willing to buy the book. If the reading is not chiefly to sell books but to be some sort of literary event, then obviously more reading will be expected and there might not be any q&a, but the authors I've known or seen who are really good at these things always do a mix of introduction and explanation about the works being read, actual reading, q&a, and entertaining anecdotes. Of course, if World Com has a format, I guess you have to go along with it, but if I ever get to that point, I can tell you right now, I'm not reading for an hour. :)
     
  19. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    I don't recall any readings at World Fantasy to have been an hour long. They were all 30 minute blocks. The audiences seemed to prefer to listen rather than ask questions, except when the author was a very well known person. Then, unfortunately, the questions rarely dealt with the books themselves. I enjoy answering questions about my books. I like to do the reading first, 20 minutes or so, and then open it up for questions or comments.

    You want to always give a fair impression of what you really write. It would be unfortunate if you read a fantastic battle scene that caused people to run out and buy the book, when in fact it was a very uncharacteristic part of what you do.

    The final problem that I grapple with regularly whenever I plan a reading is trying to be objective. I cannot possibly read any chapter as if I didn't know what came before it and what follows. So I can't even hear the words when I read them. They mean so much more to me than they could possibly mean to someone listening to them for the first time.

    I would like a stranger to read three of my choice chapters and get their opinion! That way at least the chapters in question would be read in isolation.
    but even then, it's just one person's opinion.

    I am pretty sure of what I am reading this year, and still I have doubts. I keep searching for that elusive better chapter that I know is there but I cannot seem to locate.
     
  20. funky_fantasist

    funky_fantasist Registered User

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    The readings I have seen at Worldcon

    have been in an hour slot - HOWEVER the authors have not read for an hour. G Kay read for about half an hour. GRR Martin probably did 40 mins. I guess the notable thing was that they read a decent chunk of their current works - a chapter in fact - GRR Martin read a WHOLE Jon Snow section! Joy!

    FicusF I think you make a good point about the differences between reading in a bookshop type venue or reading at a Con - at a Con I guess you really are 'preaching to the converted' as they say! I've been told I do good interesting readings - all comes down to my years of training as a Mum. I can do a REALLY good Gollum voice...

    It can be a nerve wracking process though - in Edinburgh there are a group of ladies who are 'infamous' for going to every reading there is on at the bookshops (they also do gallery openings etc!) They don't care what the subject is - they only go for the free refreshments and an evening out! LOL! They are very daunting as they wear big hats and stare right through you!!! I went to a friend's launch a couple of weeks ago and they only stayed and drank the wine & then left - in the middle of the reading! Scary women...

    Cheers
    Funky
    :D