I’m nearly 9 weeks in to my crowdfunding project for my book of short stories on fame, In The Future Everyone Will Be World Famous For Fifteen Minutes. I’m going to be doing a few spoken word events in the next few days and. as a director of one (Rattle Tales), I thought I might give a few pointers about how to read to an audience. If you are a writer, at some point, you will have to do this in order to get your work seen. Even when you are a seasoned Booker Prize-winning author you still have to read your work to audiences. It may seem like the antithesis of everything else you do (ie, sitting at a desk writing down weird scenes from your imagination) but it’s just the way it is.
Practice. I use reading aloud as part of the editing process anyway. After I have finished a section of work, I will read it out to myself. I will often stand up to do this or even walk about. This exercise is invaluable for locating the dead pieces of writing, the weasel words, unnecessary punctuation, missed punctation and for providing a flow to your words. I urge you to add this to your writing method. If you are reading a piece at an event always read it out to yourself several times first. Make alterations to the piece that arise from this exercise then read it again. If you can bear it, read it to a couple of people you trust. If you do this enough times you will almost know the piece off by heart.
Eye Contact. If you know the piece off by heart you will be able to make more eye contact with the audience. Look up from you paper occassionally, pause for dramatic effect, address your words to them. I don’t mean stare creepily at one person, in fact if you look at a point just at the top of their heads the audience will get the impression you are looking at them without feeling uncomfortable about it. Smiling helps too and don’t forget to introduce yourself or at least say hello.
The Shakes. All authors get the shakes from time to time. Nobody notices. I have spoken to many first time readers who thought the audience was distracted by their shaking hands or legs. My right leg used to shake uncontrollably when I read. No one ever mentioned it; in fact people said I didn’t seem nervous at all. I have also seen famous authors at big festivals trembling so much their papers rustle. No one minds, they just want to hear the famous author read. If you are uncomfortable with your shaking hands put your pages in a lever file or on a clip-board. Rattle Tales provides a music stand. Sometimes nerves help the piece, I’ve cried at the end of a story and had loads of people come up to me and say what an impact it had because it was heartfelt. Try and keep it together til the last sentence though!
Slow Down. Most people read too fast. Nerves make you speed up, make you want to get it over with. My advice is read it to yourself at your normal pace and then slow it down a notch for the event, relish in the pauses, emphasise the important sentences, take your time over the dialogue. You might want it to be over quickly but the audience want to take it all in. Most spoken word events asks for no more than 2,000 words. This is because after about ten minutes an audiences’ attention wanders no matter how good the tale or the reader. If you are reading an extract bear this in mind, don’t rush to fit longer pieces in.
Acting is for Actors. You are not an actor, well, you might be, but in this case you are a writer. To listen to your story the audience doesn’t need the full Meryl Streep. They don’t want a cast of characters with different accents all competing for attention like a multiple personality disorder. Do appropriate accents by all means but don’t shout as if you are projecting at the Theatre Royal and keep the showing off to a minimum.
I will be putting all this into practice at Exeter Street Hall on Friday May 13th with nine other fabulous Brighton writers who are all members of The Beach Hut Writers. We will be talking about everything from how to get published to how to cope at spoken word events. The genres include, crime, noir, literary fiction, women’s fiction, self help, cookery and diet books and childrens fiction, so there is literally something for everyone.
May 26th is the date of Rattle Tales Brighton Fringe show hosted by the fabulous Lonny Pop. We have just finalized the programme and there are some amazing stories on the bill from a huge variety of authors. I will be reading a short story (Sourdough)from In The Future which was the story I read at the first Rattle Tales show five years ago. I don’t expect to be as nervous as I was then. Tickets are available at Brighton Fringe Box Office and they usually go fast!
If you think that short stories deserve a bit more attention from publishers please plegde to my collection because that’s what I’m trying to prove. In The Future Everyone Will Be World Famous For Fifteen Minutes will only be published by Unbound if I get enough pledges. You don’t have to be from the UK and you don’t have to have a Kindle. There are just 3 weeks left to show your support.