I was an actor long before I started writing. I worked – unsuccessfully – to make it on the Chicago scene. I’d abandoned that dream, but lately I’ve signed up with a program called “Get Lit(erary),” bringing readings of fiction, drama and music to local establishments. I’ve been able to watch the most common mistakes of novice readers, and would like to address them here.
Reading is a very public performance for people who often work privately. Below are some basic tips for making the most of your readings.
1. Speak Up and Slow Down. Most people on stage feel that they’re speaking much more slowly than they actually are. You should aim for a measured pace that keeps the audience with you, not stuck behind and straining to understand. By the same token, the person you want to hear your words is the one in the back of the house. If that means raising your voice in a large venue – within reason – then be sure to do so.
2. Breathe. Allow yourself to take space to breathe between sentences, unless your scene’s at a breakneck pace. Breathe through your nose if you can (especially if you’re on a microphone), and breathe into your diaphragm, not just your chest. This is where speech originates – just above the navel.
3. Engage the Audience. There’s nothing worse than a reader who keeps their nose stuck in the book they’re reading from. You know the lines, so make a point of delivering them to the crowd. Make eye contact. Look up from the script as often as you can. The audience is here to see you, to connect with you, not just to hear what you wrote. Engaging with the crowd is the biggest thing you can do to keep them entertained, involved – and more likely to buy your book.
4. Use your Voice. When you come to a tense section of the reading, slow down and lower your voice – or speed up slightly, and raise the pitch. Which you do is a function of the scene (a lurking killer in the house vs. a race through the Ardennes), but by modifying the way you speak, you present the audience with a chance to be caught up in the action. Coming to a romantic scene? Soften your tone and draw the words out. Speak as if you were reading to a crush, or to a committed partner. Again, you know the scene – use a voice that enhances your words.
5. Always a Full House. It doesn’t matter if the hall is packed or the bookstore has only three chairs filled with the manager, a cashier and a cat. These people are here to see you. You owe them your best. It can be hard to smile through disappointment; but hey – you’re acting now, and this is all part of the act.
Have you had reading experiences, bad or good? Trade a tip in the comments section and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a signed copy of FAMISHED: THE FARM on its October release!
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