Another Denman Island Readers’ and Writers’ Festival has come and gone. This was the third year I braved the stage to do a book reading. Why this particular feat should unnerve me, when in my working life I had no trouble rattling on in front of an auditorium full of people, I have no idea.
Well, I suppose I have one idea. These readings are timed. I have twelve precious minutes in which to hook my audience; twelve minutes to make a positive impression; twelve short minutes to turn listeners into readers, and I’m loath to waste a single moment of my allotted time.
As a result, I trim my reading to come in just shy of the twelve-minute mark. Trouble is, it’s only shy of twelve minutes if I read on stage at the same pace at which I’ve practiced.
I know what you’re thinking. Why not choose something shorter? Something that runs, say…ten minutes? Save myself a boatload of stress. Yeah, I should do that, but did I mention I’m loath to waste a single moment?
I may never get over my jitters, but regardless of whether the readings are timed, I have learned a few things that you might find helpful if you find yourself on stage with your book in your hands.
- Choose a selection that not only represents your work, but ends on a note that leaves your audience curious to know more.
- Avoid or remove spoilers.
- Replace the names of minor characters who aren’t pivotal. E.g. “Dr. Emery Coulter,” becomes “my doctor.”
- Delete references to events that occur either before or following the selection, but which aren’t explained or relevant within the passage. They will only add confusion to a short piece.
- Practice your reading standing up and speaking out loud. It makes a difference to the timbre of your voice and the timing, trust me.
- Give a brief introduction to the book and, if necessary, its genre. It will give your audience a basis from which to listen.
- Set up the scene and introduce the characters who are in the selection you’ve chosen. It will help your audience come out of the gate with you instead of struggling to keep up.
- Pause at the end of quotes. “My name is Emelynn,” (pause) she said.
- Use your voice to colour the words. Cold should be a short, hard slap. Warm should be a soft caress, drawn out to melt on your tongue.
- Know the passage well enough to be able to glance away for a moment and engage the audience.
Listening to other authors read at festivals is a great way to pick up tips on what works and what doesn’t. My favourite readings are from those authors who are able to step into an actor’s role and animate their reading. I’m not there yet with my own readings, but I’m working on it.
Have you read your work in public? What tips would you add to the list?