Friday, April 5, 2019

Writing Out Loud

I do a lot of people-watching when I am not writing. In particular, when I have set myself up in a social environment where plenty of other writers are sitting in front of their laptops and notepads, composing the next Great American Novel, I take a few minutes and study those people. It is amazing to study people so mentally engaged in a process but the only signs of life are their fingers creating words with that steady click on the keyboards or the scratching of pencil on paper. It is a very intimate process, silent but intense.

However, sometimes it needs to be loud. REALLY LOUD!

Well, maybe not LOUD, but at least out loud. When we are engaged in our writing, the composition is a silent recital within our mind, our thoughts translated into words and stored on the page. Usually it happens in silence, which is fine. This very personal process creates some excellent verse, but it is writing that is exclusive to the internal world. Our writing, if you will, is still in the language of thoughts translated to writing. Anyone who has used Google Translate knows that going from one language to another is never clean, and that's when we need to gets loud.

At most every workshop I have attended, and definitely every one I have facilitated, a critical part is the writer reading their piece aloud (or having someone read their piece for them). We don't do this to make the reader uncomfortable, though that is an unintended consequence. The most important part is breaking through that translation barrier and matching the written word to the author's intention. Consider the following sentence:
"I will not look foolish today!"
As writing, it's simple and straightforward. It has an exclamation point, so we know its voice. Now read it aloud. Did you emphasize one particular word? Emphasizing 'I' makes it a personal statement, while putting a punch on 'look' or 'foolish' gives it a different twist. Even making 'today' stand out can even give it a tongue-in-cheek feel. But just looking at the words, we get none of this. Once we read this aloud, we hear those cues, and we can italicize one of those words and put the punch where it has the effect the writer intended.

Speaking of dialogue, there is a lot we can discover from reading our own dialogue out loud. Most every writer I know has a feeling for the characters and their ways of speaking. Plenty of them read that dialogue aloud and put the full meaning into it - accent, emphasis, dialect, the whole package. It can be a great performance, because they are channeling that character from thought to voice.

Then I ask, "Where are all those parts in the writing?"

It's very easy to overlook this. We write this great dialogue in our thoughts and turn it into writing, but all of the flair and drama is left out. We forget to write about the character's bigger-than-life voice, their wild gestures, their South Side drawl that drops out letters at will. The dialogue is great. The writing, not so much.

If you choose to try a workshop, and read your work aloud, don't be afraid to actually ask them to note whether the words match the voice. When the idea is clear in your head, getting the words right on the page is critical to telling your story. So translate those thoughts, refine those words, and make your story LOUD.

2 comments:

  1. Well "said."

    You raise some excellent points. My wife and I edit by me reading the story aloud while she reads along in print. It is amazing how many times I make changes because of the way I read it. The translation from spoken word to written word is indeed frequently unclean. We are limited in how much description we can put into the story, yet we must find a way to communicate dialog cleanly.

    Thanks for a thought provoking blog. Now, I must away and silently write verbal communication for someone else to interpret.

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    1. Glad to help. And yes, a husband/wife team makes for a great workshop.

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