Tina Connolly (Copperhead) and Mary Robinette Kowal (Without A Summer) both injected great voice work into their readings, bringing characters to life with inflection, diction, tone, and controlling their speaking volume. It helped that they both read from scenes filled with narrative tension, wit, and humor, but frankly, both could have read from the phoe book and made it sound dramatic. They made you want to delve into their books after listening to them. Connolly is a podcaster and an actress, and Kowal a puppeteer who also reads professionally for audio productions of books.
Great, you might say. It certainly is if you get the opportunity to listen to either author read from their work. But what if you want to read aloud yourself?
I used to fear reading to an audience. I’ve always been a fast speaker, words spilling out too quickly for my parents and teachers to follow, and for coworkers to keep up with. Over the years I learned to slow down, take a little more time by taking a few breaths, being more measured in my speaking. Hey, being measured gives you a better speaking rhythm. That was a start, but what about bringing a story to life out loud? I heard more than a few authors in the past who struggled to give a dramatic reading. So how do you put drama into a reading?
Reading to children taught me how. Eleven years ago the library began a program for impromptu read alouds called “story stop,” and I was recruited. It sounded like fun, and the only way I was going to get better at reading aloud was by, well, reading aloud, so I jumped at the chance.
Kids are a forgiving audience; young children simply love being read to, preschoolers in particular thrive on the interactivity of it. They’ll ask questions, try to guess what is going to happen next, laugh at the antics of a character, and hang on your every word if you give that word some character.
Great books can help. Two certainly helped me become a much better reader. Jules Feiffer’s Bark, George and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive The Bus by Mo Willems are filled with humor and comedy. Bark, George sees George the puppy unable to bark, instead meowing, quacking, mooing etc. when his increasingly distressed mother pleads with him to bark. The Pigeon in Mo Willem’s book desperately longs to drive a bus, but the driver, in the prolog, has asked the reader to not let him, and the unfolding story sees the pigeon increasingly desperate to get behind the wheel, and being denied by the unseen and silent reader.
Attitude—both situations are laden with it. Give your character’s voice attitude and the rest is easy.
I give regular story times now to toddlers, these are much more than just read alouds, filled with all sorts of activities, but when I read a book, even a concept one dealing with color, I try putting attitude into the narrative, give the characters, the words themselves personality. I strive to be dramatic without being melodramatic.
How about you? Do you read aloud, either professionally, or for fun, for family or friends? Do you read to kids? Are there any tricks that have helped you? Share in comments!