Some of the greatest writers, I think, have a serious problem with reading. Not that they're illiterate, mind you, but that, when called upon to do so, they can't read their own stuff. Part of being a writer is promoting your work, and that means going to conventions and taking part in Q&A panel discussions and actually reading a snippet of your latest opus. And while the story or section they're reading may be the best thing written since Richard Matheson put pen to page, they stand at the podium and stutter. They read with all the emotional content of cardboard and stumble over their own words. Now, keep in mind, I know award-winning poets whose work is of such a high caliber that it could bring tears to the eyes of the Sphinx, but when the time comes to actually read it aloud, they kill all the content. Let me tell you about a few of the ways I've overcome this problem.
To me, it isn't so much reading your story as it is performing it. The audience is there because they want to be entertained, want to hear your words, want to see if you have as much confidence in your own work. So own it. I've long said that everyone should, at some point in their lives, take at least a course on public speaking, or acting, or both. My background is in theater, so getting into the heads of characters, especially those I've written, is easy for me. When I'm on stage, at the podium, or wherever they have me, I don't just stand there and read the words. I feel compelled to vocally act them out. It draws the reader further into your work, and, as an added bonus, the feedback the convention promoters get will ensure they'll keep you in mind to invite back next year. When you wrote the words, you felt something. There was some emotion you were trying to convey to the readers. Now is the time to let that out.
But, you ask, what about stage-fright? There is a statistic running around that states that more people are afraid of speaking in public than they are of dying. Absurd, perhaps, but true in my experience. So how does one overcome stage-fright? You can try all the old stand-by's like picturing the audience naked (which only serves to make me giggle like a maniac) or focusing an inch or two above the tallest person's head. But to me, the only real way to get over stage fright comes in two steps. First, you have to realize that the absolute worst thing that can happen is they (the audience) don't remember you at all. And the second worst thing that can happen is they don't like it. They're not going to kill you, they're not going to throw things, you're not going to spontaneously combust on stage. What happens if they don't like it? Usually, they'll still smile, they'll still sit in silence or fidget, but that's about it. I've yet to see someone at any convention, author panel, or reading stand up and yell "You suck!" or pull a Kanye West on an author. It just doesn't happen, and even if it does, so what? Anyone who would do such a thing is an ass-hat anyway, so what do you care?
The second way to get over stage fright comes in two parts. First, practice. Learn your material. "But I wrote it" you say. Sure, but make sure you remember it the way you wrote it. Practice it over and over until you know it by heart and don't really need the book in front of you. That allows you to connect with the audience by making eye-contact, which is something that Bella Lugosi used on audience members when he did the live stage production of Dracula. The second part is also practice, but of a different sort. You can see this one coming, can't you? Get out there and actually do it. Not your friends and families, not a room full of teddy bears and action figures, but in front of a live audience. Take any opportunity to get up in front of a live audience to speak. It takes time, but eventually the butterflies in the stomach will go away.
In your reading, get animated. Jump up and down, scream and shout, cry, laugh...Show them the emotion you want your piece to have. Writing is visceral. Reading should let the readers see into that world and let them feel the story's heartbeat.
Until next time, WRITE ON!