One of the sections in Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb lists ten ways to take your novel from good to great. Suggestion number six is to "stage a reading of your manuscript in your living room." Well, this being the time of Covid-19, I couldn't invite friends to my living room, but I was able to stage a reading in my back yard last August with three incredibly talented friends from The Dorset Players.
The reading made a huge impact on the second draft of the novel. When you stage a reading of your novel, you are not one of the readers. It's your job to sit quietly, stay out of the way, listen, listen, listen, and take tons of notes. Here were my top three discoveries during the reading:
Show more. Stop telling. Every new writer knows the mantra "show don't tell" but it wasn't until I heard other people reading my book that I realized I was still doing way too much telling and not enough showing. As a result of the reading, I reworked the first four chapters putting my characters into situations and conversations that conveyed important details about their lives and personalities.
Write like people speak. I was able to mark sections of dialog that were awkward or unnatural. When you hear your dialog read out loud by someone who didn't write it, it is much easier to identify the sections that need to be rewritten to sound like real people talking to each other.
Move the hook earlier in the book. Every book has to hook the reader at some point in the first three chapters. During the reading, I realized that my hook was coming far too late. Nobody wants to write one of those books that people start and don't finish! As a result of the staged reading, I reorganized the first five chapters, deleted scenes, moved important details around and put the hook much closer to the beginning of the story.
I highly recommend staging a reading of your manuscript. If you do, I'd love to hear what YOU learn when you hear your work read aloud.
CLICK HERE to learn more about my novel, Henderson House, on Inkshares.