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hominid's avatar

Am I not reading correctly?

Asked by hominid (5282 points ) May 2nd, 2014

“Help! I can’t find my flashlight and I’m scared,” whispered John.

“Hi Mom. I’m sorry I broke your favorite vase,” screamed Chris.

When I’m reading to the kids at night, I feel as though I am doing something wrong. I find that much of the time I read the quote only to learn that I read it with the wrong feeling or volume.

Why are the descriptions of how the quote read after the quote itself? What is the correct way to read so that you are accurately reading the story? Do people skip ahead (somehow) with their eyes to determine how the quote should be read?

Would it make more sense for it to be formatted more like this:

John whispered, “Help! I can’t find my flashlight and I’m scared.”

Chris screamed, “Hi Mom. I’m sorry I broke your favorite vase.”

Or even better, something like this…

<Communication Speaker=“John” Volume=“low” Whisper=“1” Scream=“0” Data=“Help! I can’t find my flashlight and I’m scared.”>

<Communication Speaker=“Chris” Volume=“high” Whisper=“0” Scream=“1” Data=“Hi Mom. I’m sorry I broke your favorite vase.”>

Ok, I’m not serious about the last part.

How can I read this stuff out loud correctly?

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15 Answers

ucme's avatar

When my kids were younger, i’d often read through the books first before I read to them.
Gave me an idea of the desired context & made the stories come alive, I read these stories like a frustrated actor, passion & feeling was key.

LuckyGuy's avatar

You are correct. I have the same problem. In my opinion it is a sign of poor editing.
This is a common problem. Have you read the Rex Morgan (alleged), M.D. recently? Unless it is a question, every line ends in an exclamation point! “What is for breakfast?” “Eggs and toast! You need a balanced diet!” “Eggs are high in protein!”
When I read it I hear them yelling across the table as if all 4 hearing aid batteries died simultaneously.

Stinley's avatar

I read ahead as i am reading aloud. So i know that John whispered and Chris screamed before I say their lines. I’m a very fast reader so this may have something to do with it but I think that my ability to do this di improve with practice. If you can’t master this then @ucme has good advice.

filmfann's avatar

Radio and television announcers add small notations to their copy to tell them where to put in the inflections and where to stress the words.

hominid's avatar

@LuckyGuy: “In my opinion it is a sign of poor editing.”

Is it? I don’t read much fiction (for myself), and I’m horrible at grammar. But it seems that the ubiquity of this approach to written dialogue is a feature of the English language. It might feel like it’s a bug, but it seems that it’s the proper way to write.

That makes me think of adjectives. In English we say “red apple” rather than “apple red”. It seems that my brain is perpetually involved in all kinds of uncomfortable adjustments to make up for the fact that the adjective comes first. I almost have to ignore the adjective, take in the noun, and then go back and apply the adjective to the noun after the fact. It’s all fast, but it has always felt unnecessary.

But back to the approach to written dialogue – I do not have the memory to be able to recall how to approach a quote, @ucme, so a pre-read isn’t going to buy me much.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@hominid If the quote is a whisper, why use an exclamation point. If it is a scream why use a period? I would have them agree.

I’ll admit there might be some elegant reason for intentional disagreement. Since this is a children’s book to be read aloud I doubt that is the case.

Let’s try a fun example:
From her hiding place between the walls she could see the men enter the room, guns at the ready. “They’re here!” she whipered to Claus.

hominid's avatar

^ I quickly made up that example just to illustrate the problem with waiting until after the reader has read the quote to provide instructions on how to read it. Skip the exclamation point, and it’s just as bad in my opinion. Anyway, I think we agree that it’s not the best way to write. I’m just wondering why it’s acceptable at all.

LuckyGuy's avatar

We just answered at the same time!

Note, I do not know the correct way to punctuate my example sentence above. Where is @Jeruba when we need her?

I figure a children’s book, intended to be read aloud, should make it easy for the reader/speaker to express the correct enthusiasm and emotion.

ibstubro's avatar

Pre-read, in my opinion. Even if you just scan the text quickly for mood rather than content, you’ll get most of it right as long as the book is well written.

hominid's avatar

Note: I just opened a non-children’s book just to see if I could find an example. Here’s one…

“But, devil take it, isn’t there someone we can ask in all this muddle? Something must be done, we’re wasting time,” he said suddenly, speaking, as it were, to himself.

(from The Brothers Karamazov)

How is it ok to have read this quote without the instructions that follow? Do other languages follow this structure? Does it affect our thinking in any way?

ibstubro's avatar

I actually think this is a great question..

When reading I often have to re-read a line of dialogue because I have given it inflection other than what was intended by the author. It’s tiresome.

I think that might be a key to why I read so slowly. I’m reading aloud to myself in my head, and constantly have to backtrack. On the other hand, I loan my best books to a friend, and when I mention the best bits, he will have often missed the nuance entirely.

hominid's avatar

@ibstubro: “When reading I often have to re-read a line of dialogue because I have given it inflection other than what was intended by the author. It’s tiresome.”

I primarily read nonfiction, but I’m wondering why I don’t read fiction. I know that when I do, I experience this same fatigue that you describe. But I also think that this feature of the English language serves to remind me that what I’m doing is reading a book that was written by someone. When I try to lose myself in the universe painted by the story, the perpetual reminders that I’m reading a book that arrive in the form of these inflection difficulties is too much.

Anyway, I’m going to try to do some pre-reading and quick scanning tonight to see if I can catch all of the relevant and hidden details of the dialogue before I am reading them. Thanks everyone!

ibstubro's avatar

The author makes all the difference with fiction, in my opinion, @hominid.

I think you’ve pinpointed why I finish certain books and think, “What a slog!” Likely the author has worn me out with constant backtracking.

I alternate tough reads with mental floss by (for example) Janet Evanovich and Robert B. Parker.

My current obsession is Peter Dexter. You might try him for fiction – he seems to be a rich, yet easy, read for me.

Cruiser's avatar

I would not view how you read the words right or wrong but just that you make it enjoyable and have fun. I was also very animated when I read to the kids….verbally acting out each scene in the story. If I saw I had misinterpreted the authors intent I would just keep going as the kids probably wouldn’t notice but it also would be fun to go back and re-read the part with a different voicing often to great approval of the kids.

longgone's avatar

When reading to children, I, too, try to make the story come alive. While I’m reading, reading ahead is impossible for me. I’ve found an alternative, though. I read a sentence (silently) and remember it. I then say it out loud, but without looking at the text. When I’m almost done, my eyes automatically flicker back to the book, repeating the process.

This sounds way too scientific to only be concerning a bedtime story. Don’t worry, I manage to utterly enjoy it!

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