It's pretty straightforward actually. When reading aloud, follow the punctuation. Seriously.
I suddenly understood this technique by reading Mamet. Here's a playwright who insists you read what is written on the page, including the ellipses. And when you do, well it is amazing how much it sounds like you know what you are doing.
So here is the thing. Read the text like it is music, notes on a page. There are rules for how we speak and different notes we hit when we arrive at different punctuation points.
When we have a question mark, we go up in pitch at the end of the sentence. When we have a period, we go down lower and stop. And with a comma, we pause and stay on the same note.
It seems so obvious, but I swear this totally helps. I am quite good at what are called "cold reads" in auditions which is when an auditioner gives you a script to read right then and there without practice. And this is simply because I read what is in front of me.
Sometimes you can trip yourself up, you are reading away and so sure that this sentence is about to end and you are going down in pitch when suddenly you see a comma. Well you see the comma and even in that instant you can instead of going down to a lower pitch, stay on the same one as the word before that. If however you can't stay on the pitch and find you've read the sentence as if you've hit a period when really you still have a list with many commas ahead of you, cheat. Make every item in the list sound like its own sentence.
When it comes to ellipses or dashes indicating that the thought has trailed off . . .
or been interrupted -
don't cut off the end of the word. Say the whole word and just stop . . . and then pick up where you left off. Often people in trying to emulate the sound of normal speech like to add a little something to their ellipses. They like to do something like this:
Instead of reading "How about we go to the park . . . no never mind"
They read "How about we go to the pa . . . mmm no never mind"
There is nothing super wrong with this, but it is weak. You are adding things that were never necessary in the text in the first place.
Okay so maybe this isn't the revelation you were hoping for. But this really works. And it may read as super obvious, but it does take a bit of practice to get it. Start with listening to how people talk and see that they actually do do what I wrote about. Then try it out yourself. At first it will sound a bit like you are singing, but eventually you'll get used to it.
And if all this gets a bit too confusing, then just go back to the thought, "Just read the text. Just read what is on the page, nothing more, nothing less."
It really works.
(If any of you guys have specific questions or I am not being particularly clear in these posts, it's really tricky to explain this stuff I am finding, so I may be muddling everything up, please don't hesitate to ask)
Tips on Reading Aloud Part Trois
(previous: Tips on Reading Aloud Part Un)