February 2014 Archive

One Man Show: Being Prepared for a Live Reading

Today, I have an extra special treat for everyone! I have Marissa Buie, Boston-based Improviser and Freelance Copywriter AND my extremely-talented cousin, here to give a few tips on being prepared to give a live author reading. Enjoy!


I was always the kid who was excited to read aloud in class. This would make a lot of sense if you met me now. I’m an improviser. I like to do scenes on stage—but with no script. If you’ve never tried improv comedy, I suggest taking a 101 class anywhere you can. I swear it will help you with your writing and readings! But I could talk about improv for hours, so I’ll get to the task at hand.

I’m here to dive into the subject of how to approach reading your book aloud during an author event. Some have undoubtedly foregone preparation and simply shown up with their book and a Starbucks (or local option) in hand and had a great reading. It is possible, but why not do a little work ahead to have stellar reading? One that turns listeners into readers.

Think of a reading as a performance. Even if this thought makes you cringe because you’d rather be curled up in a corner with your laptop, have no fear. People are at your reading because they are interested in your work. Just like at an improv show, the audience wants you to succeed. Plus, you’ve already done the hard part (writing a book!).

In approaching how you will read your piece I see two options: maintaining a singular clear and consistent voice for the entire time, or creating a specific, stylized voice for each character as you go along (the one I prefer!). This is clearly something you should plan ahead of time so you can practice aloud (for a friend or two!) and be confident with your choices throughout the reading.

You know how when a book becomes a movie it is almost impossible to recall what you thought the character looked like before you saw the actor playing said character?  Keep in mind that your audience won’t be able to unsee or unhear whatever choices you make in your reading. You will sway how your (potential) readers view each and every one of your characters.

Have you ever listened to the Harry Potter series on tape? Actor Jim Dale creates a distinct voice for each character he portrays. He uses varying intonations, accents, and cadences to differentiate each character from the next. His voice work also creates a nice contrast between dialogue and narration. This is your chance to showcase the voice you’ve imagined as you wrote the dialogue.

Don’t be afraid of physicality. Is your miserly old man a character who would hunch his back and wring his hands or one who would sit erect and stare straight down his nose? Does your heroine wildly gesticulate as she speaks or is she more deliberate in her movements? Depending on your set-up for the reading (standing on a podium/sitting on a stool) you may have the option to incorporate movement and solidify a character in the imagination of each of your audience members.

If you aren’t comfortable creating an array of voices to use during your reading or if switching up voices doesn’t make sense for your piece, don’t worry. Good diction and well-timed breathing can be just as effective at keeping your audience engaged.  When you hand your book off to your readers, you can’t control how quickly or slowly they consume each sentence you’ve written, but a live reading allows you to control the pace. Change up your speed for emphasis. Don’t be afraid of pauses. As you probably know, silence can be just as powerful as language.

No matter how you decide to read your book aloud, make sure to:

  • Warm-up! You may feel silly doing it, but vocal fatigue is real. Even 20 minutes of reading can make you hoarse. Stand up and do some vocal exercises before heading to your reading. Check out this great list of warm-up rhymes. (My personal favorite is the “About Socks” twister. Try it. I dare you not to get tongue-tied.)

  • Stay hydrated! Bring a bottle of H2O. Remember, coffee is acidic and very drying for your vocal cords, so either skip it right before the reading, or if you really need a caffeine fix, switch between that and water. Or just get an Earl Grey with honey.

I’ve heard all stories need a good conclusion, so here is mine: have fun. If you look like you’re enjoying yourself, you’ll have a far easier time getting the audience on your side.

Good luck, or as we say in the theatre, BREAK A LEG.

And please, Boston authors please invite me to your next reading (or anyone get in touch if you want to know more about improv)!

Marissa Buie | Boston-based Improviser and Freelance Copywriter | marissabuie.dunked.com | @marbu0uy | LinkedIn