Reading Novels Aloud

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One of the pleasures of parenthood is reading to your children. Most children’s books read well out-loud. The Hobbit (a children’s book) is a great read. The Lord of the Rings, despite it’s length does pretty well, too. The early Harry Potter is also nice verbalized but, unfortunately, its suitability falls off near the end of the series. It isn’t that the novels get longer (LOTR isn’t exactly short), it’s that as they progressed, there gets to be too much plot filler (oh look, Ron and Harry are fighting like teenage girls again, we all know how that will end) and reading some of the dialogue with a she/he said plus adverb on every single piece of dialogue gets a little ridiculous (said the blogger, snarkily.) Even so, the Potter series was an enjoyable read through book 4, passable for another book but I gave up mid-way on book 6.

After not quite finishing book 6, it was time to find something new. I loved Dragon Riders of Pern (DRoP) as a teenager and still enjoy it, plus it’s on my kindle already so I decided to try that. Ouch. It takes a novel not very suitable for reading aloud to remind you of what makes a good one. DRoP had setting elements that proved a challenge: try distinguishing N’tol from Nytol when you are actually speaking it. It can be done but it’s a good way to trip you up. Then there are a lot of names with the same starting letter (F’nor and F’lar, neither of which really roll off the tongue.) But I think the real challenge is that the story flits around a lot in the first few chapters, both in scene and POV, making it fairly hard to follow as the listener is nodding off to sleep. I gave up on it as a bed-time read and went back to LOTR. It’s been a few years since I read that to my son and, for better or worse, it’s long enough to be the last thing I’ll read to him (most likely). He’s getting all growed-up.

Having wandered into a tough one and thinking about why it didn’t work as well, it seems it’s a combination of things: distinct and easy to pronounce setting names, places and terms. Clear POV is a huge help, preferably with only a few changes or at least a good while between changes. Same for settings: walking from one place to another is one thing but hopping from city to city, each with a different POV, can make it rather hard, especially when there are several per chapter.

As a writer, I do find reading my own scenes aloud helps both find problems but also produces better prose. Writing a book that is suitable for being read out-loud isn’t an explicit goal but I would be happy if folks found it suitable.

I suspect most YA and younger makes a good read-aloud book. Any thoughts on what makes a good read-aloud, be it a specific book or general observations?

2 thoughts on “Reading Novels Aloud

  1. As a children’s writer, I can tell you we definitely write with a different vocabulary. This isn’t because kids are dumb, but because of reading comprehension. The younger the child, the more limited the vocabulary they will have been exposed to. Therefore, when writing for kids, we strip it down to basic words and phrases. Guess what? Those basic words are easier to read.

    You are doing a great thing for your kids by reading to them. First, it gives them the chance to participate in a series like Harry Potter, what’s widely talked about but way beyond their reading level. Second, it exposes them to the broader vocabulary in a really helpful way, since they hear those big words pronounced properly and the context of the story helps them figure out what the big word means.

  2. Thanks for the comments! I understand what you are saying about writing for children. But I was a bit surprised (probably should not have been 🙂 ) to find Dragon Riders of Pern a much harder book to read aloud than, say, LOTR. LOTR is longer and probably more sophisticated in terms of grammar and vocabulary but it still reads well on the tongue. Of course, Tolkien was a bit of an exception 🙂

    I do enjoy reading to my children. I’ll miss it when they’ve grown out of it.

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