A couple of days ago I read a new story to a small audience of people who’ve devoured a lot of science fiction and fantasy. This was a story I’d only just written earlier in the month. I hadn’t shown it to anyone before, other than my husband, so I didn’t know how it might go over. Also, it was the first time I’d ever written about zombies, and I wasn’t sure how that would go either. You see, I generally stay away from zombie fiction, and I try to avoid zombie movies because I find that these works usually succeed too well at frightening me right up until they reach their downer endings. But it had been suggested to me that I write a story with a specific title — a title containing the word “zombie.” I accepted the challenge.
I’ve always loved going to authors’ readings — hearing where the author puts the emphasis, seeing how other audience members react to various lines, and simply being a part of an oral story-telling tradition that probably goes back to the days when humans first learned to speak. Well, my own reading reminded me not only how much I like reading my work out loud, but what a valuable experience it can be for a writer. I’d thrown some things into the story that I wasn’t sure about, and now I know which ones I ought to keep. More importantly, I got to watch people fall into the story, and to gage how quickly that happened and whether it succeeded in holding their interest. My reading also told me how well the ending worked.
So for any would-be writers who read my blog, here’s a piece of advice. Try reading your work to a group of friends, relatives, or whomever. It’s best to keep your reading relatively short. You may be surprised at how useful the feedback is in showing you what’s working and what isn’t. Sure, you could ask people what they thought, but a live reading is a more immediate and honest gage. Give it a shot!