Thursday, May 8, 2008

Show Business for Writers: Three More Tips

#4. SLOW IT DOWN! Writers tend to read aloud at the same speed that they read with their eyes! Yes, you're doing a “reading,” but you’re not “reading” – you’re speaking. Speak SLOWLY and CLEARLY, at about half to one-third of your normal speaking speed, and don't be afraid to pause. Audiences need time to let your words sink in. This may feel “theatrical” to you first-timers. Check by rehearsing in front of friends or peers.

#5. Respect your audience (said Danny Thomas). Go onstage STONE SOBER and NEVER drink or smoke until your program is over. Don’t try to make people laugh. They will laugh if they want to; you can’t make them. Literate audiences are there to hear literature, and resent gimmickry. I once saw a poet accompany himself by twirling a plastic jumprope over his head to get a “whoop-whoop” background sound. If poet has a guitar, I leave. (It's like Madonna with her guitar; too embarrassing to witness.) At another reading, a cellist "echoed" the poetry. This supposed enhancement felt endless. But I was stuck in the front row and couldn't move, so I listened to the cello, which was a heck of a lot better than the poetry. Don't risk a comparison!

#6. Always look better than they do (Steve Martin). You may think that your normal scruffiness conveys that you are unpretentious, all-natural, and at one with the people, but in fact you are covertly communicating an insult to your audience: “I look like a slob because I want to look like one of you.” I saw a prizewinning poet read in jeans and t-shirt and sneakers that made her look as if she was about to clean her bathroom.

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