Critique Technique part 23.5: read-out-loud tools

We’re going to take a break today from the regular Critique Technique posts to explore some very cool tools.

If you’ve been writing for any time at all, you’ve probably heard the advice that you should read your work out loud, or have it read to you. The reason is that you’ll hear (literally) the things that go bump or clank in the text that you might not have discovered otherwise. Your brain processes information through different channels when in comes in through your ears versus your eyes and that can be truly eye- (or should that be “ear-“?) opening.

Up until recently, using this technique required one or more of the following things:

  • A place where you could talk to yourself without getting funny looks.
  • A reduced sense of self-consciousness.
  • An understanding or–even better–helpful spouse, significant other, or cat to listen or read the work to you. (OK, maybe not cat. They’re too critical, and their diction isn’t so great. Not a dog, either–they’ll love anything you do.)
  • A voice recorder of some kind: tape, digital, smart phone, etc. Those can be awkward as you try to juggle manuscript pages, microphone, recorder, red pen, adult beverage (just kidding–maybe), and so on.

Well, no longer.

At a recent Cochise Writers’ Group meeting, one of the members told us how she e-mails drafts of her work to a special address, and then, for a mere 15 cents, uploads them to her Kindle, which has a read-out-loud capability. How cool is that? (I’ll bet you Kindle owners out there knew all about this already.) I expect current versions of the other e-book readers have a similar capability.

But you don’t have to go out and buy a Kindle or whatever to get access to this kind of tool. If you’ve got a recent version of Adobe Reader installed on your computer, you already have a similar capability.  Here’s how it works, using MS Word 2010 and Adobe Reader XI (version 11). Other word processing programs should be similar, although OpenOffice 4.0 requires you to export a file to PDF format rather than saving it to PDF.

Start by saving your document in PDF format using Word’s Save As function.

Word's Save As function

In the lower left corner of the Save As window, you’ll see your file name and the file type, such as:

Getting ready to save a document called Lorem ipsum...

Now click on the “Save as type” bar. A pop-up list of other file types will appear, including PDF:

Select the PDF option

Click on PDF (*.pdf) to select that type, then click the “Save” button.

Now open Adobe Reader and then the document you want read to you. (If, for some reason, you haven’t yet downloaded and installed this FREE software, you can get it here.) Under the View menu item you’ll see Read Out Loud option at the bottom of the menu.

Activating the Read Out Loud funciton

Click on “Activate Read Out Loud” then click View and Read Out Loud again, but this time select “Read This Page Only” or “Read To End of Document.”

Read Out Loud options

Adobe Reader’s voice will start reading. To pause or stop the reading, click View, Read Out Loud, and then Pause (replaces Resume in the image above) or Stop.

The reading won’t be the smoothest and you may want to select a different voice (the English-language default is “Microsoft Anna”) or reading speed. To do either, click on the Edit menu item, select Preferences from the drop-down menu, and then Reader in the Preferences screen below.

Adobe Reader Preferences window

Unchecking “Use default voice” may give you the ability to select another voice and unchecking “Use default speech attributes” will let you slow down the reading speed. (190 words per minute is pretty fast. Oddly, the minimum is 150 WPM, which is still pretty quick.)

To be honest, the Kindle implementation is better than Adobe Reader’s, but as Dan Aykroyd said in his Elwood Blues persona, “Waddaya want for nothin’?”

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