When I was preparing to edit my novel last year, one technique I considered was reading each chapter out loud. That way, I could hear the words instead of simply seeing them, and gauge whether sentences or paragraphs were too long through listening. Yet I also saw the drawbacks: Reading each chapter out loud could be time-consuming – and it could tire out my voice. (And no one enjoys going hoarse or having a sore throat, right?)
Around that time, one of my writing friends mentioned a tool in her editing arsenal that she was grateful for: text-to-speech (TTS) software. In other words, your computer “narrates” a selected portion of your manuscript while you read along either on your screen or with a printed copy.
My first thought? “That’s BRILLIANT. I should try it!” And now that I have, I plan to continue using TTS software when editing future stories.
So, how can TTS software help with your editing? What should you watch out for when trying it? And what programs can you use? You might be surprised with the last one. But let’s start with…
Three Ways Text-to-Speech Software Can Help with Editing
#1: It Lets You Listen to the Flow of Your Writing. While a computer’s monotone isn’t as engaging or expressive as a human voice, it still brings the words you wrote to life. This way, you can listen to the writing and judge its effectiveness better than when reading it from a printed page. Is the flow smooth at times and rough or choppy at others? Does any weird sentence structure give you pause? Do incorrect or flawed word choices stick out? These and other shortcomings will wave like red flags as the TTS software narrates the text.
#2: It Brings Typos to Your Attention. Ever reviewed your writing for spelling or grammar, then realized a day later that you missed a typo, like “their” instead of “there”? Our brains (and our computer’s Spellcheck) often overlook these small errors and “read” them as the intended words. But with TTS software, we’re more likely to catch these typos as the computer “verbalizes” them. Hearing those mistakes in someone else’s voice, either real or robotic, makes them more noticeable so we can fix them in the next draft.
#3: You Get the “Reading Out Loud” Experience While Saving Your Voice. As fun as it might sound to read your work out loud, imagine how dry your throat might be and how winded you might feel after each reading. TTS software doesn’t read at a faster rate, but it does allow you to conserve your vocal and respiratory energy. Besides, no writing advice is good advice is if it recommends you sacrifice health and well-being for your craft’s sake. (*wink*)
What to Be Careful of When Using Text-to-Speech Software
Read Along with a Print Copy or On Your Computer Screen. You might be tempted to sit back and listen, but it’s better to be an active participant. As your TTS software narrates the text, read along either on your computer screen or on a printed copy of your manuscript. This will prompt you to pay close attention to the written words and the audio so you can find potential changes. (In other words, it prevents you from “sleeping on the job”!)
Select Short Sections of Text at a Time. Having TTS software read an entire scene or chapter can be taxing on your brain. The longer your computer reads without pausing, the more likely you’ll lose your place as you read along or forget ideas for possible changes. Instead, select one page or a few paragraphs at a time, and give yourself breaks in between so you can mentally process each “reading” and make notes of future edits.
Expect Foreign or Invented Words to Be Mispronounced. This happened during my WIP frequently, since it’s a YA fantasy story set in a fictional world – and some of my software’s pronunciations of my invented terms left me in stitches! But it’s important to know you might run into this if your manuscript also features foreign or made-up words. And if it does, have a good chuckle, then let it go so you can focus on the real issues.
Which Programs Offer Text-To-Speech Software?
Many of us already have TTS software on our computers without realizing it. Here are some of the programs that come equipped with it:
- Microsoft Word comes with a Speak command, which you can access via Word’s Quick Access Toolbar once you add the shortcut. (Speak is also available on Microsoft Outlook, OneNote, and PowerPoint.)
- Computers using Windows 10 feature a Narrator function, which reads text, calendar appointments, and other notifications aloud. Check out this detailed guide on Narrator for more information.
- If you own a Mac, your operating system also comes with TTS capabilities. Go to System Preferences > Dictation & Speech > Text to Speech, then select the “Speak selected text when the key is pressed” checkbox. (Click here for the complete instructions for English-speaking users.)
- Scrivener has a built-in TTS function as well. When you’re ready, click Edit > Speech > Start Speaking to use it.
- Other TTS software options include Voice Dream, Natural Reader, and several other programs listed here.
So, give TTS software a try the next time you edit your work. You might find that it helps your process in a way you hadn’t expected, and that the quality of your writing in later drafts – the ones that matter most – is even stronger than before.
Do you use text-to-speech software as part of your writing process? If you have, which program(s) would you recommend? Do you have other experience or advice with reading your manuscript out loud during the editing stage?
Sara is a fantasy writer living in Massachusetts who devours good books, geeks out about character arcs, and drinks too much tea. In addition to WHW’s Resident Writing Coach Program, she writes the Theme: A Story’s Soul column at DIY MFA and is hard at work on a YA fantasy novel. Find out more about Sara here, visit her personal blog, Goodreads profile, and find her online.
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