One of many discussions I’ve had with David is the subject of audio books and their narrators. Personally, I’m a massive fan of Stephen Fry’s reading of the Harry Potter books, and David has spoken in glowing terms of Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s reading of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series.
I’ve given up my subscription to Audible more times that I can count, for I struggle to find books which translate as well to being heard as being read. I’m absolutely certain this isn’t just a one way street of pointing the finger at the narrator, especially after completing Hilary Mantel’s final part of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy The Mirror and the Light, where I struggled tremendously during earlier chapters to figure out what piece of dialogue was being spoken by which character. As a narrator, I guess it could be possible to save the listener from that confusion, or it might prove just as confusing a process to figure out as to a reader.
That said, this is about writers editing, rather than readers listening, so …
One thing which struck me when listening to the audio of a couple of Cormoran Strike books (from J K Rowling’s nom de plume, Robert Galbraith) was how many times I heard “he said” and “she said”. I did manage to read past, for the characters were well crafted and the story line interesting enough, but it proved to be a most helpful learning around the whole subject of dialogue tags.
That experience added extra weight to the advice given to writers of reading our work out loud – a practice I now generally follow. The problem is, I know where I intend the inflection to be … so I place it there when reading aloud. Whereas, having tested the Edit Out Loud app, it’s clear the matter at hand is whether I’ve used the correct punctuation and sentence structure for that to be clear to my reader.
The Edit Out Loud app was one of those things I fell across somewhere, made a note of on my phone, having every intention of trying it out when I had time. At the end of 2019, I rummaged through the notes on my phone, after accepting it it was high time I made the time to do something about all the ideas I’d stored there. It became pretty clear that a number of the items had been time sensitive … and that certain ships had long sailed. One good clear-out later, and my note to check out Edit Out Loud shot right up the list.
Edit Out Loud Trial
The software is available to download for use on your desktop – be that an Apple or Windows platform. For mobile devices, it’s currently only available for Apple, but an Android app is currently in development. I chose to download the software to both my Windows desktop and my iPad. As my writing is done on the desktop, it’s easier to upload it from there, but I listen to the app on the iPad for the purposes of editing.
There are four levels of membership – for the purpose of this trial, I used the Free version, and in all honesty, cannot see from the features listed, that I’d either need or want to upgrade.
You can select from a number of computer generated voices – there are three UK English options – 2 male, & 1 female. Similar is available for US English, and there are a vast range of other languages to choose from. It’s also possible to alter the voice’s speed.
So, what did I learn? The major learnings did turn out to be around my use of punctuation. The first observation is that either the software doesn’t cope with dialogue, or I’m not doing it right. Sadly, I suspect the latter is correct, for I have issues with punctuation marks appearing inside of quotation marks AND outside; I’ll no doubt be put straight by a professional editor on that subject in due course 🙂 I’m also not using commas correctly for indicating where a reader should pause for breath, and the app also made obvious when a sentence of mine has gone on for WAY TOO LONG. But I was absolutely delighted to discover the app copes well with hyphens and with my favourite ellipses, as none of the other options I tried did.
While you’re being read to, a highlighted block moves across the text, and you have the option to add a comment, or to “mark” the text with the following notations :
- Make Shorter
- Add Details
To review the marked up manuscript, simply tap on the little fin-like markers in the left-hand margin, and a new window opens to let you know which of the listed options above you selected to mark the text (for multiple markers in the same paragraph, just tap the fin again for a second/third etc window to open).
In order for this to be an entirely fair trial, I decided I needed to compare it with other free options available. My first attempt was with the Narrator feature available in Windows. Unfortunately, it read aloud Every.Single.Thing as you try to set it up, meaning I quickly decided it would drive me totally nuts before I got anything useful out of it. While there’s also a similar feature within Microsoft Word, since Microsoft Office decided adopted the subscription model, I no longer have a copy and so cannot comment. Adobe Reader also has a ‘Speak Out Loud’ feature, but it is horrendously slow and, as I could find no option to amend the speed, it was also rejected. Finally, I tested the ‘Read Aloud’ extension to Google Chrome using the ‘Simple Text to Speech’ option, and it wasn’t at all bad. The major drawback being once that it starts to read, there’s no option to pause or annotate the file as you go.
The only other software option I found worthy of further note was Natural Reader. Like Edit Out Loud, it has a number of membership options, including an entirely free version. Of note, one of the premium membership options offers natural voices, and the sample readings provided do sound a lot easier on the ear when compared with the digital voice options available in Edit Out Loud. The cost for the natural voice option was $19/month or $119 annually at the time of writing. One drawback for me, is that Natural Reader didn’t cope well with hyphens, and my favourite ellipses absolutely mystifies it. However, if computer-generated voices drive you to distraction, this option may be worth considering, if your budget will stretch to it.
The outcome of my trial is that I’ve deleted all the trialled options, with the sole exception of Edit Out Loud. At the ideal price-point (free), there were enough learnings gained for me to decide it’s worthwhile using as a quick and easy editing tool.
I hope you find this helpful – please do share you experience with this (or similar) software, or add your own suggestions below in the comments.
© Debra Carey, 2020