In 1990, I attended a summer camp for children with talent in art — I applied to the writing division and was quite pleased to be accepted. It was a sort of validation that came with the knowledge that somebody that wasn’t extremely biased (my family) actually thought that my writing was better than average. I spent many hours writing and rewriting stories, short plays, monologues, character sketches, and just about any other form of fiction that you can imagine.
One of the most important lessons I got out of the experience came to me one day when I was reviewing something I had written with one of the other students in the program. I gave it to him to read — I believe it was supposed to be a short story with a focus on the dialogue. After looking it over for a few minutes, he smiled and gave it back to me.
I looked at him and said, “So what do you think?” He looked at the notebook I had given him and looked back and handed it over. “Read it out loud to me.” I must have had a confused look on my face because he said it again. “Just read it out loud, slowly and carefully.”
I started to read it out loud and at a certain section of the dialogue, I just stopped mid-sentence. “Wait a minute,” I said, “That doesn’t sound right.”
“So what should the character say to make it sound right, then?” I thought of a couple of different ideas and said them out loud. Both sounded a lot more natural and normal for an actual conversation than the stilted swamp of words I had thrown together.
I kept on reading it out loud and discovered that there were a few places where the dialogue looked great as I had written it based on the intricate thought process in my mind. Once it was processed outside of my own head — a place where people have no access to the spider web of logic that lead up to the exact phraseology — it was confusing and obtuse.
The lesson I learned that day was invaluable, and I continue to use it to this day — I read most of this article out loud and changed a couple of sections of it for clarification.
The important thing to keep in mind is that we create art — plays, stories, articles, etc. — for understanding of the outside mind, not just our own. Otherwise, there would really be no use in even “exporting” it to a tangible format and we could just merrily review it in our own brain space.