Monday, April 16, 2012

Great tool for revison: WordTalk

Almost every bit of revision/editing advice you see will include: read your story out loud. It definitely helps, but I still miss stuff when I read my own stories out loud. The best solution is to find some nice volunteer to read your story out loud to you, but nice volunteers aren't always available when you need them.

The solution?

The WordTalk program. It's a free Microsoft Word text-to-speech plugin that reads your story to you. As soon as I heard about it, I had to check it out (I need all the help I can get with the revision process).

Like all the best laid plans, though, getting to use the program took a little blood, sweat, and tears (most of which was my own fault, of course).

I knew right from the start that it wouldn't work on my "main" computer (the computer I use for the Internet) because it doesn't work with Microsoft Word 2010 if your operating system is Windows XP (but it will with Vista and Windows 7).

So I planned to install it on the old computer I use as a "server" for all my writing files. However, I forgot that the computer has no speakers because I had given them to my daughter (after all, why would my server need speakers?) Of course, I didn't remember until I had already installed the program on the server and was attempting to test it out (and wailed, quite embarrassingly: "Why doesn't this program work?" Um. Duh, the program works fine on computers that HAVE speakers). Let's just keep this part of the whole episode our little secret, shall we?

I moved the program onto my memory pen and installed it on my laptop (where I actually do my writing). Then I got the error message: program needs a Microsoft NET framework. What is that? I have no idea. But I know it's an update that was auto-installed on the computers that are hooked up to the Internet. However, my laptop has never connected to the Internet because I wanted it to be absolutely secure. It doesn't even have antivirus on it because why would a computer that's never going on the Internet need antivirus? It definitely doesn't have any wireless capabilities (it's older than dirt) and I don't think I even ordered a modem for it when I ordered it!


So I had to install it on my daughter's computer to try it out. Hey, it's only fair: she has my server's speakers, after all.

The program is pretty simple and clear cut. You pick from the three available voices and click a button to have it start reading the story. The robotic "Emergency Broadcast System" voices are distracting, but you do get used to it. And it really does help to have "someone else" reading your story to you, even if it's in a robotic voice.

For me, the biggest advantage it has is that it makes my "flotsam" problem jump out. When I edit, I sometimes leave part of an old sentence behind when I cut. When I read the story, my eye skims right over that extra word; when robotic voice reads the story, that extra word jumps out and hits me over the head.

For example, I might have a sentence like: "She turned the corner and but ran into him." My original sentence read, "She turned the corner but didn't slow down," and I decided to change it to, "She turned the corner and ran into him," but I left an extra word (or sometimes two) from the original sentence in there. This program helps you catch those extra words.

I also sometimes forget to change my verbs and do silly things like leave an "ing": "He smiling the whole time." My original sentence was: "he was smiling the whole time," and I wanted to edit it to, "he smiled the whole time," but I dropped the "was" and forgot to change the verb. This program helps you catch those inconsistencies, too.

Other times, I stutter and write a word twice. I can't tell you how many times I've come across sentences like this in editing: "He ran into the the house and slammed the door." I don't know how it manages to happen so often, but it does. And the spelling/grammar checker underlines it, but I still miss it. My eyes just skim right over it. This program helps you catch those, too.

I've already used it on a couple of stories, and I think it really does help make the revision process easier. And you can't beat the price: FREE! I've now made it a part of my regular revision process. I'd recommend you give it a try and see if it works for you.

Download WordTalk here.

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