Reading Circles – The Sound of Words

Happy Friday everyone! I hope you enjoyed our session reading The Giver and that some of the things we discussed opened up new ways to look at the work of other writers, as well as ideas for approaching your own writing.

We are now switching gears and will soon have another longer piece to read together. But in the meantime, I thought it would be nice to take a little break and read a few shorter articles together.

This week, I’d like to talk a little bit about the sound words make. Here’s an interesting article on the pleasures of the audiobook. Do you ever listen to audiobooks? My mom hates to read, but she enjoys listening to books, especially if the narrator has a great voice, so sometimes she and I would lay about the living room and listen to a book together. I also stole borrowed a few of hers to listen to on long drives and heavy commutes through L.A. as a great way to avoid becoming suicidal to pass the time.

This article talks about what goes into making a good audiobook, but I’d like to draw your attention in particular to the first two paragraphs, where the article discusses the cognitive process of listening to a story as opposed to reading it. As writers, it’s important to keep in mind that originally story-telling was an oral tradition and that writing isn’t just about getting words down on a page, but rather there really is a voice that speaks those words in a reader’s mind. Some people speak dynamically, others in monotone, and I don’t have to tell you who is more interesting to listen to. The same is with writing. One has to vary sentence (and even word) lengths and pay attention to rhythm and flow. Too many long sentences and a reader gets lost. Too many short ones and the writing quickly gets stilted.

One of the hardest things for new writers is to “develop one’s voice.” More seasoned writers also run the risk of getting into ruts: using the same types of phrases and imagery. In both cases, it helps to take a fresh look at your writing and see how it sounds.

I have a few suggested exercises for you this week:

* Pull the books of some of your favorite authors. Pick a few random pages of text, find a quiet space to yourself, and read them aloud. What do you notice about the rhythm of the words? Do you get any different imagery in your head from reading aloud than you do from reading silently? Does it sound differently aloud than it did in your head, with your inner voice? Is there anything there you could learn from or even try to emulate?

* Try reading your own writing aloud. If your writing was music, would it be more  like the varied rhythms of a nocturne, with a mixture of light trills and the call of a bass, or is it more like the head-bobbing beat of hard rock or trance?

* If you’re feeling extra brave, ask someone you trust to read a passage of your writing. Does it sound like you intended? What do you notice about how a different reader interprets the tone of your words, where it’s appropriate to pause, and when to raise the emotionality and passion? Do they get tripped up anywhere? Are there areas that seem to flow particularly well?

Take note of these and see how you can apply what you learn from this exercise elsewhere. If you notice a passage in your writing that seems to fall flat, it could be due to lack of colorful imagery or imprecise words. But it may just have something to do with your rhythm and flow.

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3 responses to “Reading Circles – The Sound of Words

  1. Great suggestions, Jade! I love storytelling; I always participating in storytelling night at the school where I used to teach, and I would practice telling the stories first to anyone who would listen. We listen to CDs of children books on our long car trips with my daughters. When I was really sick and in the hospital, my sister read to me from a magazine…and it was wonderful to just lay back and listen. I’m going to go read that article now!

    • It really IS great to listen sometimes. When I was teaching at university, it really became clear to me how underdeveloped our auditory skills can be in this day and age, when it’s so hard for students to retain things that are *told* to them. We’re so visual as a culture, and we like to emphasize hands-on and group activities…but I think we’ve gotten away from what it means to just *listen*. It’s worthwhile, I think, to sit back and listen once in awhile because it is definitely a different way of engaging with the world.

  2. I struggle with my own voice. It is full of imagery, but then I lack in so many other arenas. Some days I feel confident in my writing and then other days there is so much doubt. I really liked these suggestions. Especially “listening” It is quintessential to writing.
    Alita

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