Part Two of Two Parts
By Ramona DeFelice Long
Reading to an audience is an art—a performance art. It's also a skill that can be developed. Today's blog entry focuses on the final two Ps to help shy authors overcome their trepidation—Practice and Psyche Yourself.
Practice – Practice has two meanings here. You’ll become more comfortable with performing if you do it often, and if you watch others. So, attend public readings. If an open mic is offered, participate. Sit in on poetry slams. Offer to introduce fellow authors at events. Volunteer, and get up to say a few words of thanks. Every time you stand up and speak, you build confidence. It’s the immunity effect. The more you perform a feared act, the more you immunize yourself against being afraid of it.
Once you have a reading lined up, how do you practice? First, decide what you will read. Make sure it fits the time frame. Read your selection, aloud, over and over. Some people practice in front of a mirror. Some record themselves. Others read to family or friends. All good ideas. The important thing is to read the piece through, beginning to end, as many times as needed to become wholly comfortable with it.
As you practice, listen to the rhythm of the words. Note when you need to take breaths. Think about the mood and tone. Think about the narrative point of view, or POV. If the narrator is a child, you don’t have to speak like a child, but you don’t want a blasé, world-weary tone.
If it’s an action piece, read a little quickly, with a vibrant voice. If it’s quiet or moody, try a steady, thoughtful tone. If you have characters with accents, consider speaking in their unique voices. If the voice is snarky or sarcastic, adopt that into your reading voice. Get comfortable raising your voice when a character yells, or lowering it for dramatic effect.
If a part trips you up, say it over and over. If you still stumble, reword or cut it out.
I print a copy in very large type. I add emphasis and pause marks to remind myself when I want to be extra-dramatic. And I practice until I’m sick to death of it. When you’re so tired of the sound of your voice reading this thing, you’re probably ready to perform it.
Psyche Yourself – Fear is both physical and psychological, so there are both physical and psychological ways to overcome fear.
First, understand that everyone in the room is on your side. This isn’t a contest or election with winners or losers. You’ve already won. You are in this spot because you did something well. Second, phone in to your inner grown-up. Being a good reader adds to your skill set. Even if you hate it, mastering public performances is a savvy move.
Now it’s time to perform. Assure yourself that you are prepared. Bring a marked-up copy of your reading selection. Bring your lucky rabbit’s foot if you think that will help. Some writers like to hold a pencil or wave it around. Some clutch a water bottle. If the set-up is not to your liking, ask to make a change. I don’t like a free-standing mic, so I often pull up a chair. I keep one hand on the chair. It grounds me.
Before you begin, take deep breaths. If someone is introducing you, the first words out of your mouth are, “Thank you for that nice introduction, Tom.” Next words, “I also want to thank My Town Library for hosting me today, and all of you nice people for showing up.” Followed by, “This was inspired by….”
Then you’re on. “This is from my new novel, The Performance Author.”
Even if you are shy, you want people to read your stories. Readers love to meet authors. They’re your people. Read to them.
Ramona DeFelice Long works as an author, independent editor and writing instructor. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in regional, literary and online publications, and she was honored by the Delaware Division of the Arts as an Established Artist in Fiction in 2009. As an editor, she works with mystery/thriller authors and collaborated with SinC’s Guppy chapter as editor of Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology. She is active in the Delaware literary scene and maintains a literary blog at http://ramonadef.wordpress.com.