Read your story out loud.
No, I'm not saying to shout your double penetration scene with gusto from the back of public transportation, but hearing your own words helps so much. Reading out loud will prevent you from skipping over missing words you might have skimmed with your eyes. For example, look at the picture below. This is one of the first images that comes to mind when you talk reading out loud vs. in your head.
Reading out loud also helps you pick up on your "favorite" words. I tend to do a document search for "That" "Just" "Glare" "Smile" "Grin" and a few other words that my brain loves to put into sentences and dialogue tags for me. And don't get me wrong. Keeping a list of your common repeaters is good to do, but reading out loud shows you so much more than word echos.
1. You hear when your sentence structure stagnates.
Sentences are part of the art of writing. Word choice helps everyone understand your point. These three sentences are boring because they have the same rhythm and structure.
By varying word choice and structure we can make our manuscripts more interesting for our readers. And for ourselves too. Working with fragments might seem counterintuitive, but can make a point where we need one. Do you talk to your friends with perfect grammar? I'd bet you don't.
2. You find out if you're characters are saying or thinking their own names too damn much.
When you talk to your significant other, or your mom, or your bestie, do you call them by name each time you address them?
"Becky, you really need to look at the girl wearing those pants. I'm serious, Becky. Her butt looks too big in those pants, and Becky, you know she's probably one of those rap guys' girlfriends."
"Oh my god. Becky, look at her butt. It is so big. She looks like one of those rap guys' girlfriends."
Sure your characters would say each other's names to get their attention, or at the beginning of a conversation. But if you find yourself using it as a crutch because you can't remember who is talking otherwise, you need to rework your scene, not throw names around like sprinkles. Hearing it makes the sprinkles even more obvious.
3. You find things that are wrong even if you don't know why.
One of the best parts of hearing my manuscript spoken, is that "Wait. What?" moment. When I have to stop and say something again, my readers will have to re-read to get the meaning too. Sometimes you might not know the technical terms for why the grammar is screwy, but you'll know the sentence is hard to understand or makes it sound like you're talking about the incorrect subject for the description you want to use.
This is one of those trust your gut moments. And for me, this is usually where reading out loud is worth it's weight in gold. If it sounds wrong to you, it's going to sound wrong to someone else too.
Whether you're reading from your computer screen and making changes as you go, OR doing like I do, and loading your document for your kindle to read to you in robo-voice, while making notes on the printed manuscript...read it. Out loud.
This is the technique I used when one of my editors congratulated "My Team" on their hard work. Yes, it makes that much of a difference.
Do you read your book to yourself? To someone else? Do you have Word read it to you? Or are you a gadget queen like me and love sending your books to your kindle for some sexy monotone voice love scenes? Tell me how you utilize this technique in your edits. I'd love to get some pointers for my next project.