Reading Copy

When you are reading quietly to yourself, you eyes probably skip down the page fairly quickly. Now and then you may have to back up and re-read a sentence. Your emphasis was so out of kilter with the author's that the sentence just didn't make sense.

You probably don't, however, need to carefully preview each sentence and decide which words need emphasis. That is a task reserved for an actor or someone reading copy.

When you are reading a script for a radio or television commercial, you often take the time to mark it up. You think about which words you will punch and how the meaning changes. You are trying to convey the meaning that the author intended and that's not always easy. A standard exercise for budding talent is to take a sentence and consider the different meanings that can be conveyed by stressing different words. Take, for example, this sentence that has been running through Kim and my heads since Elena died:

What do I do now?

Simple question consisting of only five words. What is it really asking? That depends, in many ways, on which word is stressed.

For example, suppose I stress the word "now". Read the question as "What do I do NOW?" Now as opposed to before. Now that this has happened. Now could mean the next action or now could mean from now forward. Not only does stressing the word change the meaning but intonation can change as well. Taking a breath and pausing a beat can change the meaning. Leonard Lopate talked to Andrew Wade about some of the advice Wade provided to actors in the Royal Shakespeare Company on "How to Speak Shakespeare" (

If you restrict yourself to just examining the words you stress, there are still many meanings you can evoke. "What do I DO now?" or "What DO I do now?" or more dramatically "What DO I DO now?"

Make another simple change. Change the word "I" to "we". Now you need to communicate who is meant by "we". Is it me and Kim? Is it our immediate family? Is it our neighborhood? Other parents who have lost children? Who is this "we" and how central is it to the question.

Believe me, in the last month we have asked these questions in all of their permutations. We had been asking the same questions before Elena died. I remember when I was studying for my qualifying exams and one of the professors stopped me in the mail room to ask how it was going. I told him that I had been working through a lot of old exams and practice questions.

He smiled and said, "oh the questions are the same. It's the answers that change."

Published in: on March 27, 2006 at 10:07 am  Leave a Comment  

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