From time to time, I’ve kicked around ideas that I thought other writers might find helpful. They’re never fully developed enough for me to know what to do with them, so I’ve decided to start just rambling and see what happens. 🙂
I work nights, and I work alone.
I spend 5-6 hours every night in a dark, empty cafe, with only my headphones and cheerily lit baker’s area to keep from feeling like I’m in a horror film. Naturally, I listen to upbeat music and drink too much caffeine to keep me alert on my nocturnal schedule, but lately, I’ve embraced the audiobook.
I’ll admit, I was dubious. It’s hard enough for me to concentrate on my baking when I’m so sleepy. Same could be said for my writing when I’m not at work. I thought for sure that “reading” at work would lead to burnt cookies and copy-cat plot lines– not to mention that I’m a big old baby, so if I read anything even remotely scary, I’d probably go hide in the bathroom with the door locked until the opening managers came to rescue me from my own literary-induced terror.
I am happy to say I was wrong.
I started with a series I’d already read half of (The Hollows aka Rachel Morgan series by Kim Harrison) to keep the distraction (and scared little baby) factor down. In my listening, I’ve discovered some pretty interesting things, that a lot of writers probably already know about, but I’m gonna add my two cents in anyways.
Reading improves your writing.
This is kind of a broad category, so I’m gonna break it down a bit, with a few gems specific to hearing the written word.
1) The more you read, the more you want to write.
Books are exciting. And those of us with the bug need little prompting to fall into a good book. We write because we love stories. Excitement over someone else’s stories just adds more fuel to the fire. I do something similar with video games when I need a recharge, because I’m antsy and need to do things with my hands. In this case, the something is baking, but whatever. That’s just my personal quirk.
2) Dialogue is vastly improved by listening to it.
I’m not just talking about “doing the voices” for different characters, though if you’re writing is solid, the reader will have non-verbal clues as to how the character should sound anyways. But there’s something in particular about hearing words that a character speaks that helps you suss out what sounds right and what sounds trite. Read your conversations out loud, make note of where your speaking deviates from your writing (because it will), and adjust accordingly.
3) Listen to someone else read your writing.
This one is a little harder to achieve, because not everyone is gifted at reading aloud. But if you’re blessed with a friend that is, beg/plead/threaten etc to get them to read aloud for you. In listening to The Hollows books, there are a handful of places in each book where I can tell the sentence has just gone on too long, because of where the reader hesitates/intones/etc. There is a natural cadence to speaking, and writing should follow that. Listening to your writing is a great way to uncover that.
4) Your readers are gonna miss some things.
And sometimes, there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. This is another one that can be tested by a listening vs. reading session, but honestly, I’m inclined to just let this one go. It increases re-readability, if nothing else. The important part is to remember that your readers are just flat gonna miss some things on the first read through, so if something is CRUCIAL to your story’s understanding, shore it up. Make it stand alone, away from long rambling descriptions or conversations, protected from the action scene speed up we all do when reading. Repeat it, if necessary, somewhere else down the line. But in most things, be prepared to let it go. I’ve caught sooooo many little things that I just flat missed my first read through, because the audio book makes me hear every word. I can’t scan down the page when I get antsy. I don’t re-read the same sentence ten times because I should be in bed. I don’t rush to the dramatic conclusion because I’m worried about the outcome. I have to take every word as it comes at me. It makes a difference. But I don’t feel like I’m reading a completely different story, just because I missed out on a few things the first time through. It just feels fuller now.
So yeah. Go listen to some audiobooks. You’ll learn writerly things. *nods*