Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Power of the Speech Function

I have a Mac, with whom I have a love/hate relationship because I like to game and Macs don't.  And I refuse to shell out fifty bucks for a simple computer game.  No, it's not going to happen.  I only spend that much on PS2/3 games.

But I recently found a function on my Mac that's helped immensely with my editing process.  I remember reading a post sometime in June where the author stated that she read her entire manuscript aloud while editing to get a feel of what sentences felt clunky and which flowed nicely.  While I understand that reading things out loud helps immensely with structural problems and keeps you from rambling on and on and on like Henry James likes to do, I also know that I could never, ever read aloud an entire manuscript.  I read fast, so I talk fast too, and I tend to get tongue tied when I'm not paying strict attention to my pacing.  I also don't have that much time to dedicate to reading a hundred thousand word manuscript, unfortunately.  Reading, yes.  Speaking, no.

However, while I was working on my interview with Michelle Fayard, I wanted to make sure that my answers to her questions read correctly and fluidly.  So, on a whim, I turned on the speech function for my Mac and listened to 'Vicki' read my answers.

It was magical.

Granted, computer voices are not exactly the nicest thing to listen to, but I found that it really helped me keep my rhythm with the answers, and I was able to know immediately where I had to add and subtract words from my writing.  She was also very good at picking up those little grammar mistakes you know you always make but still can't really fix because your brain doesn't pick up on it.  Like when 'is' becomes 'if' and 'to the' becomes 'tot he' and your brain just glides right over it like nothing's wrong.  Then you post and look back and do your best Darth Vader impression.  "Nooooooooooooo..."

But when I listened to Vicki and read along with her, I was able to catch them immediately and spared myself several rereading sessions because she broadcast all of my silly mistakes for the room to hear.  So I decided to grab my WIP manuscript (it's still untitled at the moment) and fed Vicki the prologue and a small chunk of Chapter 1.

It was even more magical.

Aside from her picking up missing words and some rhythm problems, there's just something about hearing my work read that was incredible.  It felt more real, if that makes sense, as if it's not in my head anymore but out here in the open, with a tangible form.  I felt almost blown away.

So based on my reaction to Vicki, I would definitely recommend using a similar function with your writing if you can.  It forces you to pay attention, and for anyone who's edited anything knows that after a while, your brain just dies and refuses to do anything helpful.  It's also good if you have an hour or so to work without interruption because you can hear the rhythm of your writing and you can hear where it goes off or where it falters a bit.  Then you can either fix it by stopping the speech function or mark it to be fixed later.  And you can do it in public if you wear headphones.

The only downside to using the speech function is that the computer voice can get very grating after a while, simply because it's not a real human voice and doesn't do cadences right.  So where you envision a dramatic pause or heated dialogue, the computer just sees as data and goes on in the same mellow voice it always does.  It can be annoying, like when you're on a long trip and the GPS voice is droning and you just want to chuck it right out the window because you suddenly *hate* it.  It also doesn't know the difference between the present tense of read and the past tense of read.  That was super annoying and confused me for a second before I realized what happened.

But if you take your manuscript and work on pieces of it, like a chapter or two at a time, then you can spare yourself from wanting to smack your computer silly.  It might not be the best thing in a time crunch, but if you use the speech function early on, then you have a head's up on the editing process, in my opinion.  I know I plan to use it on my early chapters next time I have writer's block so I can still be productive.

UPDATE: Michael Offut had this to say  - Interesting way of using Assistive Technology to help with your writing. For your readers, if they would like a similar program that the Mac uses on Windows computers, they can download Read & Write Gold I believe for free. I know it is not as good as Jaws but it should do the job. Also built into Windows 7 and Vista is a speech engine so that if people want to, they can dictate to the computer rather than type.

Also, an announcement: Michelle Fayard of Bird's-eye View has agreed to do an author interview on August 23, so I hope to see you all here!  Mark your calendars!

Second announcement: Lev's Flash Fiction Contest is open to votes right now, so go check it out!


  1. don't we always want to smack or computer silly anyways? ha ha...
    no that is a good sugestion and I'll look into it!

  2. I’m in love with our iMac, well, because it’s a Mac but also because Apple really goes all out to help make computers user friendly if you have a disability.

  3. Not sure if either of my PCs have that function. Would be weird to hear!

  4. Rebecca: Very true! There's always a small part of me that just wants to kill the computer.

    Michelle: Macs *are* very nice computers, but I've had too many problems with them to really love them. I'm a klutz, and that doesn't bode well for a machine that doesn't like to be dropped and can't have water within a five mile radius of it. I've killed two already. (And I have a friend who spilled an entire can of coke on her HP and the computer still lived! Jealousy!)

    Alex: I heard from a friend that PCs don't, which is too bad. Is there software or something that's available for download or installation that could help? And it does sound all weird when you first start. There's a weird metallic twang to the voice that just screams uncanny valley.

  5. Great idea. How many "tot he"s have I had in my writing career? Unfathomable amounts, lol. Cute blog. <3 follower #27 :)

  6. Tot he and I are mortal enemies at this point. And thank you! (: 27 is an awesome number for an awesome person. (:

  7. Your computer reads to you? No way! I want one! I can totally see how that would be beneficial.

  8. Yep, that it does. And you can control the speed of the speech too. All in all, it's pretty fun, even if Vicki can be a tad, well, annoying at times.

  9. Hi it would be so cool to hear my PC speak to me!

  10. Hi Nas! It's an interesting experience. Maybe I'll record it sometime for everyone to snicker at.

    (My computer also tells very lame and corny knock knock jokes. I want to know who the programmer was because (s)he is amazing.)

  11. I'm not sure if our PC has a speech function . . . though I might find one if I hunted through the Control Panel for a bit. :P

    Your computer tells knock knock jokes? LOL.

  12. PCs need speech functions. I suggest we start a petition to have them.

    And yes, my computer thinks it's a comic genius. Actually, it comes with gag voices too that say weird things. The one labeled 'Bad News' says: The light you see at the end of the tunnel, is it a lamp of a fast approaching train?

  13. Hi Marlena,

    That was an interesting post :) Much needed for authors(aspiring and established alike)!

    Your blog was refered to me by Nas, and it's great to "meet" you!


  14. Hi Anju,

    Thank you for the comment and the good word! It think it's a good option to look into. And Nas is just great, isn't she? Thanks for stopping by!


  15. Interesting way of using Assistive Technology to help with your writing. For your readers, if they would like a similar program that the Mac uses on Windows computers, they can download Read & Write Gold I believe for free. I know it is not as good as Jaws but it should do the job. Also built into Windows 7 and Vista is a speech engine so that if people want to, they can dictate to the computer rather than type.

  16. Thanks Michael! If it's okay with you, I'm going to move your comment into the blog so that people can better see what you're talking about. Thanks for the comment and the follow!

  17. I have a Mac. How do I set up Vicki?

    I love my GPS. I've named her "Xena, Warrior Navigator".

  18. Hi Theresa! If you go to System Preferences and click on the Speech button (under the System heading), it will take you to a window that has two buttons: Speech Recognition and Text to Speech. If you click on Text to Speech, you can change the System Voice to whoever you want. Then, when you want it to read something, highlight the text wall, right click, and select Start Speech.

    Your GPS is awesome.


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